Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spring Hill / 2

Spring Hill RR course
The narrow lanes typical of the Spring Hill Road Race course (Bo Hebenstreit). Cross that line and the official runs you down in her SUV.

Well, Spring Hill is done. I lasted two laps, then ran out of gas. This past week I hurt my eye with my contact lens (a scratch, perhaps) and haven't slept well as a result. Perhaps that affected my endurance. But really things weren't any better at Hamilton last week. I've just got to hope that these hard miles, something I've been sorely missing in my riding so far this year, will pay off. The Alto Velo A Ride. The Roaster's Ride. The House of Pain. Solid investments which I haven't made this year. But I admit that on days like this I find myself questioning if there's better things I could be doing with my time. Bike racing is merciless. You come prepared or you get chewed up and spit out, left on the side of the road to rot in the sun.

The course is mostly a single lane (center line rule strictly enforced) of rough pavement (no really nasty potholes, though) and rolling hills. I'm too timid on descents, lose position there, then fail to regain the positions I lost. But honestly I wasn't really racing today. I was just there to get some miles in, to measure myself against the pace of the cat 3 pack, and see how many of the 22 mile laps I'd survive. Take them one at a time, I told myself. Yet still I'd hoped that I'd last the distance.

Near the back (Veronica Lenzi)

Congrats to Greg, who chased back from a crash in the feedzone at the end of lap 2, chased back on over the first half of lap 3, then sprinted at the end of lap 4 for a solid seventh in the field (eighth overall), earning 2 points toward his cat 2 upgrade. Since he needed only one, he's done with the 3's. Very nice. Greg's been racing pretty much continuously since the Low-Key Hillclimbs last fall, moving from Low-Keys to SJBC Winter Series to the NCNCA races in Feb. I honestly don't know how he keeps going.

It was also shocking to hear Clark was there, after his crash and subsequent arm fracture at Battenkill just six weeks ago. I think he lasted as long as I did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spring Hill

Spring Hill Road Race this Sunday.... I need to train anyway, so I may as well train in a race. E3: 4 laps @ 22 miles/lap =

88 miles

total. Ouch. 3 bottles + EnduroLites + 3 gel flasks + something chewable, I think. Maybe 2 flasks + some Clif Blocks + an oat cake. I've never raced that far before. Since I demonstrated 19 mile endurance @ Hamilton, 5×/week improvement might be expecting a bit much...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mount Hamilton Road Race

approaching the summit
500 meters to summit (Veronica Lenzi)

After a crash truncated my Berkeley Hills Road Race, Mount Hamilton would be my first full road race of the year. After being off the bike Monday and Tuesday after Berkeley due to my bruised ribs, I had a solid 5 days and 240 miles of training, including Bike to Work Day on Thursday and one and a half repeats of Diablo in the East Bay heat last Sunday with my teammate Noe.

But something was wrong. I've just not been feeling good on any rides this year. A solid recovery block was in order. So Mon through Thursday was Z1-Z2 only, with a 90-minute massage on Thursday. For the first time this year, I wasn't either tired, sick, or (other than residual bruising from that crash) injured. I felt good for the first time this year.

Saturday, the day before Hamilton: a blustery ride in the gusting chill of fog-shrouded San Francisco. So much for heat acclimation.... but the forecast for Sunday was chilly-to-moderate temperatures. I was as ready as I was going to be.

Mount Hamilton is a truly epic race. Point A to point B over consistently challenging terrain: extended climbing, technical descents: the essence of bike racing. So rare in the United States. And San Jose Bike Club's' promotion is top notch: from course preparation to registration to marshaling to the impressive same-day results.

Profile of Mount Hamilton Road
Profile of Mt Hamilton Road, from Low-Key Hillclimbs.

So there I was. I'd last climbed Hamilton at Thanksgiving's Low-Key Hillclimb. That, ironically, had been the last time I'd felt really fit riding a bicycle. Hopefully I'd recapture that feeling.

But there's a lot more to the Mount Hamilton Road Race than climbing the mountain. Indeed, the race doesn't really begin until you reach Isabel Creek at the bottom of the subsequent descent of San Antonio Valley Road. The mountain itself and the descent which follow are just filters, preliminary selections, as well as a drain on reserves before the racing begins.

And that was the story of my race. When we reached the 500 meter to go sign for the King of the Mountain sprint, I was surprised to find myself with the lead group. I'd ridden poorly, tailgunning this group, leapfrogging dropped riders. This threw me at the mercy of the the pack ahead. A serious split and I would have been stranded. But moving up requires confidence more than fitness. It was confidence I really lacked. Nevertheless, I'd survived.

In those final 500 meters, indeed a small gap opened as the leaders accelerated for that KOM. But the gap was small, just a few seconds. Easily closable on the descent by the group of us towards the rear of this much-reduced lead pack.

But here I unraveled. Mines Road is probably the most technical descent on the traditional race calendar. There is no margin here for fear. A seemingly endless progression of hairpins: a small gap opening in one becomes a larger gap in the next and then the rider ahead is gone. I felt my race evaporating with every corner. Finally things stabilized as I matched the pace of Rio Strada's freshly upgraded Steve Christiansen. He also admitted to being conservative. Partners in shame.

But still things weren't over. A group of maybe 7 riders including my teammate Dan Murray (another recent upgrade) appeared from behind. The key was to keep a steady chase with this group. Maybe, [i]maybe[/i] the lead group would lack motivation and coherence, and the minutes I'd lost could be regained.

But trouble. For such a small group with a long chase ahead, the most efficient formation is a single paceline with relatively long (20-30 second) pulls. But we were too scattered. Guys would move to the front, punch it, then immediately pull off. We approximated a double paceline instead of a single, with some sitting in while others rotated at the front. Too much surging, too many bodies in the wind at once. We needed organization. I tried to provide some.

But it didn't last. Again I was gapped on a descent. This time I should have been able to close the gap: it was so small, just a second or even less. But when I asked my legs for more, they refused. I was empty. 35 miles to go.

The rest of the race was an exercise in survival. One after another group caught and passed me: 3's, then Chris Phipps leading the 35's, then a mix of 35's and 45's. Finally I was caught by my other two teammates: Dave Parrish and Ryan Byers. I hung with them for awhile, until again I couldn't sustain the pace. The final 15 miles were hard, but I never cracked completely, slogging along. Eventually I finished, alone.

A sobering day. At least I proved I can still climb a bit. But there just wasn't enough in the tank for a race this hard. A good day of training, an epic course in fine conditions, but that gnawing feeling that I'd failed. Why was I here?

Well, I suppose it made me stronger.

Thanks again to San Jose Bike Club for the great job in promoting the race, and special thanks to Cara, currently out with a knee injury, for driving out there to support me and the other Mice who suffered on the road between San Jose and Livermore. Results and photos are accessible here.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Okay, this blog post is way too long. But it was an epic day, so forgive me.


Yesterday was Bike to Work Day. Sure, San Francisco Bike Coalition does a fantastic job of supporting riding to work in the City, while down south, the "Energizer Stations" set up by the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition are also fantastic. For many, just getting on the bike and riding those few miles or even one mile to work that would normally be driven is a big challenge. Hopefully for a number of these people 14 May was a stepping stone, a push over the activation barrier to more regular bike commuting. There's plenty of reasons biking to work is considered impractical. But if one's looking for reasons to drive one can typically find them, while if one's decided driving just an acceptable option for any of a large number of good reasons there is a way. If you've got a hammer, you tend to see a lot of nails.

My normal modus commutus is to take my bike on Caltrain. Indeed, on Wed I seem to have left my Bont cycling shoes on the train, a very expensive mistake. But while the bike-train combo is an excellent one I want to encourage more people to try and use, it's not "Take your Bike on the Train Day!" There's plenty of reasons I need to take the train and can't ride in. But when Bike to Work Day comes, I ride in anyway and make it work.

The past few years, the Google SF2G has taken bike commuting to another level. Plenty of the Google employee base, wanting the lifestyle of San Francisco while working at the Mountain View company, prefer to do it carless. The train and the famously wired Google shuttle are excellent options. But at least occasionally, there's a surprising number who ride their bikes. And what a ride! Around 45 miles one-way. The web site has route details, with planning done via their Google forum.

Of the three "standard" routes, by far my favorite is the Skyline route. A lot of climbing, sure, but more scenic, less stopping, and fewer cars. There was a big turn-out for their "BayWay" commute yesterday morning, leaving from Ritual Roaster's on Valencia at 6:05 am. But a relatively hard-core seven of us were at the start @ Peet's Coffee at Fell and Broderick for Skyline.


We left at 6:35. As soon as we entered the nearby Panhandle, the leaders surged, and I was gapped, rejoing the lead group when we sloed to enter Golden Gate Park. Then we crossed the park along its major axis. No traffic issues in the early morning. (Why is car traffic even allowed in the park? Another matter...) Again I was gapped on the rough roads. Soon we were on Great Highway, another regroup, where a brief ride up the coast under the hovering haze fortold the conditions on the climb of Skyline which followed.

The climb began, and we were soon enshrouded in the morning mist. I climbed at a steady pace, well dressed for these anticipated conditions, not too cold but wanting to keep active. The first regroup on the climb was supposed to be after "the third hill". On the rolling climb, it was difficult to count "hills", as anyone who's tried to count the "Seven Sisters" of Ridgecrest Blvd on Mt Tam can attest. The misIntroductiont began to solidify, but it still wasn't too wet. I wanted to keep going, not risk chilling by the road-side (memories of hypothermia in Marin two weeks ago).

Eventually my sphere of visibility revealed 280 with its huge volume of commuter traffic. Was today Drive-to-Work-Day? Every day is. What if cars were banned from 280 for Bike to Work day? That would put some teeth into it, give it more meaning. In any case, I'd missed the turn to San Andreas Trail the others were taking to bypass 280. I continued on anyway. Bikes are allowed on the 280 shoulder for two brief segments. It feels safe, far safer than riding across a typical parking lot, for example. The cars are out there, I'm over here. Drivers face a larger speed differential versus oncoming traffic on a typical undivided highway like 35, with consequences just as potentially fatal.

My goal was the store at Skyline and Hillcrest, where I wanted food. Soon I arrived, and bought a banana. As I left, I saw a rider, not in our group, pass by. I realized I wasn't sure if the crew had passed while I was inside. I decided to just continue on.

After some brief confusion about route, I took Hillcrest under the highway, then instead of passing by the gate marking the Sawyer Camp trail, I took the 280 shoulder again, the southernmost of the two bikeable segments. The exit ramp, of greater concern than the highway itself, took me to Truesdale, which I rode under the highway. Then a quick right on Skyline to continue southward.

About this time I emerged from the mist into glorious morning sunshine. What was mist was now overhead clouds, clouds which would later reflect on the water of the Crystal Springs Reservoir as it came into view. I was by now well into the second half of my ride, and what a wonderful finish to a commute. As I rode south on Canada Road, riders going northward waived. James Conway, in charge of the e-beam lithography system at Stanford, waived from his car as he passed. Through Woodside, passing the creeping traffic on Sand Hill, then check-in at the Energizer Station on Palm Drive. Miles? 45. They were impressed, those those signing in ahead of me more typically 3, 4, 7....

Honestly, work is a bit of a downer after such a wonderful beginning to the day. And it wasn't bad time, either: I pulled into my office at 9:10 am, not when I want to begin my work day every day, but definitely doable.


A productive 7.5 hours, it was time to head back. I was concerned about the headwind which had been reported to be strong recently for G2SFers. To keep in the shelter of the Emerald Hills, I rode Alameda de Las Pulgas to Jefferson instead of the more canonical Whiskey Hill-84-Canada. Jefferson is a solid ten-minute sustained climb, but the route only adds around 100 climbing feet to the longer Whiskey Hill route, focusing the climbing more than adding to it.

After descending Jefferson to Canada, I got my first real taste of the wind. A stiff headwind all the way north to 92. In the distance, clouds obscured the top of the mountains, a hint of what would come. It wasn't too bad, however: I was able to sustain 15 mph without too much trouble.

Back on Skyline, I began the long slog up to Golf Course Road. Here I was mostly sheltered from the earlier wind, so climbed without problem. Golf course took me back to Skyline, where now at the crest of this particular hill I got hit with the wind again. A stop at the Hillcrest store was mandatory!

Again after taking the 280 shoulder I arrived at the store, where I got a Gatorade. A 20 oz Gatorade does wonders for flagging reserves, I find, and my today's experience supported this observation. However, the more telling issue was the mist.... it was blowing over the hill in huge clumps. I put on my vest and long fingered gloves before continuing.

After another 280 shoulder, I exited @ 35 and crossed 280 for the final time. The Eucalytus were creaking in the gusting wind, bringing memories of Dan Plummer. The fog thickened, requiring periodic "windshield-wiper" action with my gloves to clear my glasses. When I reached Hickey, conditions were approaching epic.

Onward I climbed into the mist. The wind was sometimes from the head, but more often a cross or tail-cross depending on the local topography and orientation. Light clumpy rain would periodically fall, then seconds later the sky would brighten and the roads would be dry. Then the rain would begin again.

My main concern was the Hwy 1 interchange. My fiend John Murphy prefers to bypass this on local roads, but I'm too impatient. There's four hazards at this interchange: two entry ramps and two exit ramps. When the fog's really bad, these can be treacherous. But today I was lucky -- it happened to be clear enough to check for conflicting traffic when I reached the interchange. As I crossed, I passed another rider, the first I'd seen on this road. It was good to see I wasn't the only one crazy enough to be up here this evening. I think he felt the same about me.

Hwy 1 basically marks the top of the hill. Soon I reached Westmoor, which is my favorite way down (via Eastmoor) if I'm crossing San Bruno Mountain on Guadalupe Canyon Road Alternately, you can descend and ride back to the City on Mission. During low traffic periods, this works well, but during what was still the tail end of an evening commute I preferred to stick to Skyline. I knew I'd be out of the mist soon.

The descent was surreal through the mist. By the time I reached John Muir, the southern boundary of Lake Merced, visdibility had substantially improved, but not as much as I'd expected. Still, I'd survived. I passed Great Highway, then reached Sloat, a rough road which climbs to Portola. Once again the fog thickened, but not anywhere close to what it had been. Portola is another long climb, gaining most of the altitude of the Twin Peaks to which it leads. Often when doing this route I detour for a quick frisky climb of super-scenic Twin Peaks Road. Not today: it was getting late, 7:07 pm when I checked my watch. So I continued to Clipper. Now I was deep into the end game.

Clipper is said to be the fastest descent in the City. 50 mph is possible, but you need to blow a stop sign to do it. I'm not into throwing my fortune at the mercy of random traffic, so was content to keep my speed well south of that speed.

As I descended the Mission glowed magically in late sunshine ahead. The epic was over. Effortless riding took me to Valencia, which I took north to 17th, where I stopped in El Toro for what I felt was a well-earned tofu burrito. From there, it was less than two miles home, ending with a brisk climb of Potrero Hill via the 18th street bike/pedestrian bridge. When I arrived at the door, it was only 7:38. Still plenty of light. I'd made decent time.


Wow.... what a day. 89 miles and 7.5 hours of work. I felt surprisingly good considering my shoulder injury. Fitness of a sort is finally coming around. I'm recovering better, with better endurance. What's missing is sustained aerobic power. I really want to see that. If I have any hope of achieving my goal of breaking 17 minutes up Old La Honda, a goal which last year I thought was in the bag, I've got to see that magic middle of my maximal power curve start to move.

Anyway, I want to thank Brent for leading the SF2G ride. I promise I'll be back soon. Hopefully next time a bit less fog on the mountain.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Berkeley Hills / 2

Berkeley Hills Road Race
race: E3
result: DNF (crash)

My goals for the race were extremely modest: help my teammate Ryan if I could, but otherwise, to just hang in there as long as possible. Sickness, travel, and a minor running injury have all worked against attaining any continuity in my training this year: for example, in April I rode one weekend out of four. And it showed: climbing power was a solid 20 watts lower than it was last year. But things were on the upswing: I'd finally gotten a hint of strength this past week. Thanks to Mr. C for the encouragement: I'd take Berkeley Hills one lap at a time.

The first lap it was fairly easy up Mama Bear, harder up Papa. Three more times of this? I didn't want to think about that: just focus on eating, drinking, and avoiding the tail end of the pack.

The second lap things were similar up Mama, then easier up Papa. Sure, I missed the neutral water, which meant I needed it the following lap. Needing water is always a dicey proposition in the chaos of a cat 3 feed. But so far, so good. The thought began to leak into my brain... hey, you might actually finish this after all.

Then after Papa, I have no idea what happened. Suddenly the guy in front of me was going down, his front wheel rubbing against the rear of rider ahead. "I'm going to crash", I thought, and that's what happened. I was on the ground. One guy rolled into me, so I rolled into a ball. No more carnage.

The bike got a few scrapes, but after I restraightened my bars and my shift lever, things seemed relatively okay. Breathing on my right side is a bit labored: a bruised rib, perhaps. I'll need to give that a few days to see how it improves.

After visiting the medical supply box at the feed zone, I rolled down to see Cara, still recovering from her mountain bike crash 2 1/2 weeks ago, marshaling at Happy Valley Road (the base of Papa Bear). After she sent me back up the hill to do a better job dressing my wounds, I returned and scoured the side of the road between Mama and the feed zone for discarded bottles and gel wrappers, in partial fulfillment of my post-ride clean-up duties. I stacked the bottles I found on the curb, for easier spotting, and gathered the wrappers or neutral water bottles for trash or recycling.

When Cara was finished marshaling, we headed to the S/F (picking up a few more roadside bottles along the way) for more attention. Ibuprofin, I was told, for the rib, and careful cleaning for the road rash. By the time I got there, though, Dave Parrish and his clean crew had already left for their post-race circuit of the course. Ah, well, at least I was able to help a bit.

It's frustrating to show for a race and not get the chance to succeed or fail on the bike, instead of off of it. But at least the signals I got from the two laps I was in the race were encouraging.

P.S. No power data... somewhat unsatisfying, but I've got to take my Reynolds MV32-T with Velomax Carbon tire over my heavy Powertap rear wheel in a race like this. Sometimes, it's good to strip down and get basic, anyway.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Berzerkeley Hills

In 2006 I contemplated doing Berkeley Hills again after several years of essentially not racing. A few weeks before the race I asked Dan Smith, who wasn't yet my coach, at one of his High Intensity Training clinics how I should prepare for the race. He said I should focus on efforts similar to those in the race, preferably on the race course itself. That made sense, of course. Unfortunately I got sick immediately after so didn't do much preparation at all, and the race went poorly. On the first full lap I made it to over Mama Bear with the group, but got popped on Papa. Ugh. I hung in there and finished 29th out of 57 starters, finishing just ahead of Drew Landers of team DFL on the final climb (I later rode with Drew up Mt Tam and we sort of laughed about the race). There was one more rider behind us who finished: 26 riders dropped out. I could easily have been one of them: I was riding alone most of the race, off the back.

Off the front in 2008
From the 2008 race (Veronika Lenzi)

Last year, better prepared, I returned to race with the 3's. I found myself off the front just following the pace car. What the heck, I figured, if they'll let me go, I'll go! So off I went riding solo. I stayed away the first lap then much of the second. But on the Bears, they finally caught me. As in 2006, there were two finishers behind me: I ended up 47th. It was frustrating because I was strong enough to hang in there, but I'd squandered my resources on my solo adventure.

This year, it's not looking good. Good indicators for race readiness are the Spectrum Ride, the Valley Ride, the Tue Noon Ride, the Roaster's Ride, and the Alto Velo A-Ride. I've gotten dropped from two attempts at the Spectrum Ride. I've been dropped from one attempt at the Valley Ride. I've been dropped in my one attempt at the Tue Noon Ride (and my two attempts at the Thu Noon Ride, which isn't as hard). I've been dropped in one attempt at the Roaster's Ride. And I've not done any A Rides (since Caltrain moved its earliest Sunday morning train to 8:15am, I can't make that one without driving). In other words, there's no way I'm ready.

Berkeley Hills is a brutal race. None of the Bears are particularly tough, but at race-pace, the efforts quickly add up. You've got to be able to ride at your limit for several minutes, then recover to do it again. And again. An exercise in match burning. I've got maybe two matches in my book right now. Two if I'm doing well.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sickness and the Rain

rain!As I sat shivering in the Marin Coffee Roasters in San Anselmo today, trapped in my soaked clothes, I reflected on the year so far.

Since December, I've been sick 5 times and injured once. First in Laos, I got a bad cold, which I battled for a week before finally recovering during the final day of the Red Spokes tour, in which Cara and I were participating. Then there was that extremely tastt smoothy in Vientiane, which left me in bed for a day and a half staring at the ceiling fan in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Upon returning from that trip on Jan 6, Cara and I got sick again. Another cold, another week.

My plans for the Austin Marathon on 15 Feb ruined, I decided instead to run the 28 Feb Woodside Half, a 12-mile trail run promoted by EnviroSports. A fantastic event, the extended decent through Huddart park trails left me with trouble in my left leg which continues still, although I've slowly improved. It's most noticeable when I stretch my hamstrings. But I feel it riding, as well.

Running is in maintenance now, but the hamstring issue certainly set back my training. A week after the run, I rode with the pack at the Menlo Grand Prix, but not counting that, I haven't felt good a single day on the bike. Always struggling to gain back lost fitness.

Then in early April I got sick again: another week-long cold. I recovered in time to get in a decent weekend's training, and the week following. Then after a weekend in New Jersey, where I at least got in a nice 6.8 mile run and a pair of hikes with Cara and my sister, I returned with another cold, losing another week.

4 colds, 1 case of food poisoning, and one annoying injury. If I was a horse, they would have put me down by now.

I'd been planning on Wente, but passed on that. It just wasn't an option. Next weekend's Berkeley Hills, but I'm really not ready for that, either. I'm tossing around the idea of marshaling in addition to my existing commitment to clean-up crew. I'd hate to start the race only to get dumped the first time up Mama.

Still, today was a bright spot despite the rain: I made my first Roaster's Ride this year. My goal was to hang with the leaders to the top of White's Grade, which I did, but this is just the opening salvo in the Roaster's festivities. The gas doesn't get turned down from there until Pt Reyes Station, a long way up the road. I'd done okay to get to the top of White's, but then I let the group go in the pouring rain, preferring to pace myself for was a long day by my 2009 standards.

GGTThe rain never really let up from when it picked up intensity as I climbed Whites Grade. By the time I rolled into San Anselmo, I was soaked and shivering. I simply wasn't able to warm up, even in the Coffee Roasters, sipping coffee and munching food. Fortunately, in Marin there's always the bail-out of Golden Gate Transit. I exercised my option and took the 22 to San Rafael for a seamless connection to the 70 which took me 1.2 miles from home in the City.

I'd have liked more, but still, I logged 59 miles in the on the day. Money in the bank, plus that intangible benefit in "suffering capital" of riding in the rain. I just need to put together a few months of solid miles, of time in Z3+. Consistency is the key to fitness. And consistency is what I've been clearly missing this year.