Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's like a drug....

This past week, the stars aligned and my schedule worked out such that I was able to join the group for the Tuesday evening Diablo ride.

As I left work I noted that it was a perfect 76 degrees with only a slight breeze...couldn't have picked a better evening for my first ascent of Diablo this year.  The only problem was, as I headed up the Dublin grade and then down the other side, I noticed that the temperature continued to climb....until eventually stopping at a decidedly warm 87 degrees when I pulled in to the parking lot where we were to meet.

Evidently, I wasn't the only one motivated by the nice weather. Jim showed up along with Larry who not only hasn't been up Diablo this year, but hasn't been riding much at all since last year.  They both stated that their goal was modest, Larry wanted to make it to the first ranger station and Jim was keeping him honest...I mean keeping him company.

I on the other hand, known for making bad choices and stupid decisions, had decided I needed to make it to the summit even if it killed me.  Diablo, in my mind anyway, can be broken down into 4 distinct sections.  The first section to the ranger station/entry gate is not only tough, it's pretty much full sun the entire way.  With the breeze that had picked up, I'm pretty sure the temps had gone down from the 87 I saw on the dashboard of my truck, but it was still hot and I had finished almost an entire bottle of water by the time we got there.

At the beginning of the second section, after the ranger station, you enter an almost flat (4%) area that is in the shade and allows for a nice recovery. This doesn't last too long though and soon enough we were climbing again and although we were in and out of tree coverage, I still sweat like crazy and by the time we hit the junction where the north and south roads meet, I had almost emptied both bottles.

It's not like I haven't been riding at all this year. I've done a couple of 40+ mile rides and had been trying to make sure every ride had a decent amount of elevation, Diablo though is a different beast. It's basically an 11 mile ride that gains 3500ft with almost no relief.
After regrouping, resting for a couple of minutes and filling our bottles at the junction, we faced the third section.  For me, this is usually a lot harder than the first portions.  This evening though, I felt way better than I expected and although my heart rate definitely stayed high and my legs were feeling the effort, I actually felt pretty good.  I'm sure the fact that the temps had dropped and I wasn't cooking in the full sun helped, but I was able to get in a rhythm, shut off my brain and disappear inside my head for a bit.

There's one part that I always dread. It's a consistent 8+% and although it's probably less than a half mile, it always kicks my butt.  This evening though, as soon as we got to the beginning, I actually upshifted, stood and concentrated on trying to make smooth strong circles with the pedals.  I wouldn't say I attacked it, because that would imply I was fast, I wasn't.

I did though give it a good solid effort and by the time I turned the last corner where it mellows, I had worked in the red zone for a few minutes and was both puffing like a freight train and sweating to the point that it was running in to my eyes.  The best part about efforts like that are when they stop.  And sure enough, as I sat back in the saddle and backed off, I could feel the flush of endorphins flooding through my system. 

I remember this feeling happening a lot more frequently when I used to run.  There was almost always a point where you would be making long easy strides, your breathing would be smooth and you'd feel the endorphins flowing into your system as if you were on an IV drip. They call this the runner's high and for many, it becomes a drug forcing them to push farther and faster in an effort to get there.

On the bike though, this feeling is rare. I'm not sure why, you're putting good effort into both, both are exercise and both push your body.  With biking though, it seems like the efforts have to be much more extreme to get the same level of endorphin kick.

The rest of the climb is more of the same. A mix of steep, fairly steep and just kind of steep sections until you make the turn at Devil's elbow. From here you know you only have a few more turns before you get to what I'm referring to as the 4th and final segment. The driveway....(I put it in italics because it's supposed to impart drama...and believe me, the driveway IS drama. I would have put the "duh, duh, duh" sound effects if I knew how)

If you've ever been p Diablo, you know the driveway as the last hundred yards of hell. If you've never been up Diablo, you need to. The driveway is a short, narrow section that ranges from 15-20% and knowing that if you stop, you'll never get started again, forces you to either continue or arrive at the top walking.

Today though, knowing that I had burned all my matches on the way up, I, for the first time (probably ever) made a good decision and skipped the driveway.  I knew, had I tried it, I would have cramped up and I just wasn't ready for that level of suffering today.

Of course, as soon as the decision was made and we began our descent, I regretted it. I've never ridden up this mountain and not finished. Not done the driveway....today was the first time. And, while it may have shown good judgement and could even be seen as a sign of maturity, it bugged me.

Of course, the reward for any climb comes in the descent and today didn't disappoint. The weather was perfect, the views were amazing and I do love me some downhill....descending, along with the endorphin rush from ascending has once again left me feeling sane and almost normal....

One of my  favorite quotes is by Bill Phillips that says,
Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant

Monday, April 22, 2013

No Jacket Required....

The title of this post has more to do with last night's ride than an oblique reference to one of my favorite albums in the early-eighties....

The usual suspects showed up for the Thursday ride and it was so nice that most of us were in short sleeves which was a very nice treat. That combined with doing the entire long loop sans lights made for a really nice evening to be out on the bike.

Several of us decided to do the longer loop and while I started out strong and felt good for the first few climbs, my legs eventually began to protest as the climbs didn't let up and the pace remained higher than I would have liked.

Eventually, as we reached the top of Soaring Hawk with the views of the bay and a nice breeze, I realized again just how blessed we are to live in the SF bay area. It never ceases to amaze me that within 10 minutes of a major metropolitan area like Oakland, we have access to good riding trails.

After a brief rest to catch my breath, we began the descent that was to be the reward for our efforts. The downhill portion on this part of the ride is fast, narrow and although somewhat rutted, is a great little hidden gem in our area. Actually, it's not even that it's hidden. It's just that there's quite a bit of work that goes in to getting here and even many that are aware of it, are unwilling to put the required level of effort in to enjoy it. I think that in all the times I've ridden this section, I've only seen a couple of hikers and never any other riders.

The last little bit drops you off on Redwood Rd and is REALLY rutted out. So, not only are you listening for oncoming cars and the crotch rockets that race up and down the canyon, you're required to put a large amount of focus into staying on your line and keeping your rear wheel from launching up and over your front wheel.

This section is followed by a nice slightly downhill fireroad run back to the lake loop. This is also the only section on the ride where I wish I had gears. I spend most of my time either pedaling like a hamster on a wheel or tucked and trying to draft off one of the guys ahead of me.

Bort Meadows is also where Jack and I separated from the others in doing the long loop. They were adding in another little sideloop, but the truth be told, I wasn't sure I was going to finish this loop without cramping. There was no way I wanted to have to walk the last section of road back to the parking lot so I decided that discretion truly is the better part of valor and Jack and I headed back without the added detour.

As we pedaled up the road to the parking lot, my legs were definitely tired, but I wasn't quite as spent as I thought I might be. So, with the last 100 yards left to finish, I taunted Jack and he and I raced in to the parking lot with him cranking a big gear and me spinning again like the proverbial hamster.  Afterall, while discretion may be the better part of valor, stupid is as stupid does and I'm always game for another really dumb idea.....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

3 miles is a long way....

when you're running instead of riding....

On Sunday I took the pup out to the Bay Trail for a run.  It was a nice day and to be honest, we all like her just a little more when she's exhausted. She's mellow and cute and doesn't drive us insane jumping all over us.

I didn't bring the GPS but I'm guessing we ran/walked at least a couple of miles.  Well, I think I did a couple miles...with all of her insanity, running here and there and back and forth she probably had at least double that amount.  It's a pretty nice area, the wildflowers are in bloom and we didn't see too many people so I was able to let her off the leash and she was free to go crazy.

Yesterday, my wife had a doctor's appointment so after dropping her off, I took the puppy to the Alameda Creek trail for a run. With life being kind of crazy right now and me feeling fat and lazy about not having time to ride, I figured I had about an hour and could get a good workout in before picking her up.

The Alameda Creek trail goes all the way from the Bay to Niles Canyon which is about 13 miles. The south side of the creek is a paved trail and we've done a bunch of bike rides out there. I've never been on the north side, before since it's all dirt so I decided to give it a try.

We parked and as soon as we left the shelter of the lower parking lot and got up on the trail, I knew the wind was going to be an issue. I'd guess it was blowing at a pretty consistent 20+ mph with gusts that were much higher. The first part of the run is due west, or directly IN to the wind. It was a long 1.5 miles and I felt like I was struggling the entire way.  the pup on the other hand didn't seem at all fazed by it and once off lease proceeded to run ahead, lag behind, sprint to catch up and generally just bounce around like the energizer bunny on crack.

After hitting the mile and a half mark and turning around, life got much easier.  The winds that had fought me the entire first half of the run were now pushing me along nicely. They seemed to energize sasha that much more as well as she continued to sprint around jumping and chasing leaves as they blew down the trail.

Eventually, we made it back to the truck and although I was tired and sweaty, she immediately grabbed the tennis ball I keep in the truck and started batting it around the parking lot.....damn dog wasn't even tired....
When we got home I realized her willingness to play was just a ruse to make me feel old.  She immediately lay down on the floor in the family room and nodded off to sleep.  As the evening went on, I could tell I succeeded in wearing her out.  She was mellow and relaxed preferring to lay on the floor chewing on her bone instead of running through the house like a caffeine riddled psychopath...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It could happen to anyone....

I logged on the to the mountain bike forum this past Monday and saw the headline that gave me pause. "Rider Down"... 

We all know crashing comes with the territory when we ride and I've been intimate with both the pavement and the trail more times that I'd like to admit. This time though, it was someone I knew and the news was bad....really bad. He had been airlifted and was in a coma at the regional hospital.

A buddy I've ridden with several times and seen at the trail as well as various races a lot, had crashed pre-riding the Sea Otter Classic when his front wheel went in to one of the myriad of ruts on a long fast downhill.  Jerry is an extremely strong rider and a tremendous bike handler so it's not like he was a newb that made a dumb move. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what happened other than he hit a rut, went over the bars and landed on his head.....

For me, crashes usually happen in one of two ways. The first is the kind where you're out of control, know things are going south and actually have time to think of just how much the following events are going to suck.  The one that sticks in my mind is the time I was riding down a fast flowing trail, saw a creek, pulled up too late and knew my attempt at a bunnyhop wasn't going to carry me across.
My rear wheel hit a rock mid-creek. The back of the bike launched up and over my head as I slowly headed face first for the ground.  Luckily I was able to tuck my head, complete the airborn somesault and land flat on my canelback in the middle of the trail.  Thankfully, my rear wheel and my camelback were the only real victims in that case.

The other type of crash is the one where you're grooving along loving life and the next thing you know you're wadded up in a heap wondering what in the hell just happened.  This is pretty much exactly what happened both when I fractured my elbow at Demo and more recently, when I crashed my road bike.  One minute I'm thinking about how awesome the day is, tucking in to a nice fast downhill right hander and the next thing I know, some guy is standing over me saying "dude, you just slid all the way across the road, are you ok?"

There's an old saying that riders fall in to two categories, those that have gone down or those that will go down. all we can hope for is that when it happens, it's not major and it doesn't keep us off the bike for very long.

In Jerry's case, it is major and chances are it will keep him off the bike for a while.  All we can do is continue to pray and hope he comes out of the coma quickly and completely and with no lasting effects.

As we used to say to the moto riders, be safe and keep the rubber side down.....

Monday, April 8, 2013

St Mary's Loop...using the reset button...

I've been trying to do this ride for the last couple of months. Unfortunately, every time I've started out to do it, time has been against me. the first time, I forgot my helmet and half way to the start, I had to turn around and go home to get it. The next time, I and my buddy were both having off days and by the time we got to the decision point we were already way behind schedule.

This time though, Jack and I met at the start on a Saturday morning and with nothing on the calendar for the day except chores, I was in no hurry to get back home.  The morning started out cool, but the climb up Redwood Rd quickly gets the core temperatures up in to the "slightly warmer than comfortable" zone.  This of course leads to a cool descent to the bottom of Pinehurst but by now the temps outside had gotten into the 60s and the sun made for a cool but comfortable ride.  Of course the descent on the backside of Pinehurst is almost comletely in the shade of the redwoods and by the time we turned on to Canyon Rd and towards Moraga, I was ready for a climb.

Today's ride was shaping up differently than most of our group rides. With it jsut being Jack and I and with both of us at similar fitness levels, there was very little stopping and waiting and we ended up pushing each other pretty well for most of the route.

Life lately has been a challenge with my wife's health issues, balancing work and home and trying to maintain some semblance of balance when I'm habitually over committed with the various boards and committees I'm on.  One of the best treatments for the chaos bouncing around in my head is to force myself into the red zone on every hill I can find.  Putting my head down, pushing my heart to try to pump enough blood into oxygen starved muscles and forcing my lungs to expand beyond their normal daily limits allows my brain to check out for a while and focus on nothing more than getting my legs to make circles. 

Invariably, at the top of the climb, as my heart rate and breathing start to return to normal, my brain slowly re-engages and a feeling of well being washes over me.  Scientists say this is caused by the flood of endorphins into your system or the massive influx of serotonin into your brain and they're probably right.  For me though, it's much simpler, it's like hitting the restart button on your computer when it hangs.

Eventually, we made it though Moraga, Lafayette, Alamo and into Danville where we had decided to stop for a snack and coffee.  I really enjoy my coffee, some would say I'm addicted, and that may be true, but evidently I'm not the only cyclist that thinks coffee and riding go well.  As we pulled in to Peet's in Danville,there were so many people walking around in spandex and so many high end bikes, that it looked like a stage of the Tour of California. 

With a mocha freddo, a granola bar and a gel in my belly we began again. The next section along San Ramon Valley Blvd. from Danville to Dublin is good after lunch section. It's not really long and rolls up and down with a good shoulder. 

Where climbing forces me to shut off my brain and check out, long grinds like SRV Blvd alow my legs to check out and my brain to work over some of the crap stored up there.  It's on sections like this where my legs just keep spinning in higher cadence circles that I can work through some of the things at work, come up wiht ideas for the TurningWheels for Kids Foundation or update and clarify my mental to-do list for the upcoming week.

 The really nice part about this section is that it heads mostly north/south as much as I'd love to say my fitness allowed me to maintain the 22-24mph per pace on this section, I'm pretty sure the tailwind had more to do with it than anything.

As is always the case, all good things must end and SRV is followed by Dublin Canyon which is a long, unshaded climb and while it's not brutal in terms of percentage grade, it ALWAYS has a headwind.  Honestly, I don't think I've ever ridden this road when the wind wasn't in my face.

With the last major climb in our back pockets, we enjoyed the steep fast descent to Old Dublin Canyon where thanks to the headwind we had to work all the way back to Ccastro Valley even though it's almost all downhill.

As we rolled up to the truck, unclipped and congratulated each other on our awesomeness I felt good.  A decently long ride with a respectable amount of climbing and we finished strong.  More importantly though, my reset button worked, my brain was no longer hung up and I was ready to face yet another week.