Friday, August 3, 2012

the sound of inevitability: Mt Tam Double pre-report

As I write this, on my train to work, it is 8:09 am. That means 24 hours from now I will hopefully be over 3 hours into the Mt Tam Double Century.

The Mt Tam Double is one of the best-organized cycling events I've done, and I've done it twice. The last time was 2010, when coming off a strong Terrible Two, I rode well, finishing 12th. The only downer was a Garmin Edge 500 hiccup (corrected with subsequent firmwares) causing the loss of my ride data.

This year my preparation isn't so good. In May I hurt my back, leading to discomfort which had me out of training for a month. Were I a pro cyclist, I would have found a way around the pain, but I'm not, and so I instead gave my body and mind a solid block of rest. But it cost me on fitness. Instead of riding Terrible Two or Climb to Kaiser or perhaps the Alta Alpina Challenge, I was doing short commute rides to and from Caltrain.

After the back problems subsided, I built up a solid base of miles, many of them commuting to work with SF2G. But despite 400+ km weeks, I lacked any of the 200+ km rides which are good to have before double centuries. Finally, two weeks ago the day after the Mt Diablo hillclimb time trial, I went out on an improvised 190 km ride with 3900 vertical meters of climbing (as reported by Garmin 500). This gave me a lot of confidence: I finished that ride not feeling too depleted despite a maximal effort the day before and without paying any particular attention to hydration or nutrition.

So, ready or not, tomorrow is the double. I admit I'm scared, and that's probably good. Ironically what scares me the least is the climb of Tam itself. I've done that many times and know it well. No Strava KOMs tomorrow, no PRs, not even close: I'll be riding with a hard power limit, spending plenty of time in my lowest few gears, which go down to 34/26. Finishing a double in solid time is about managing resources, not about hammering the climbs.

What I fear the most is the fog. Descending Tam early in summer day can be supernatural, dropping into a freezing cloud with chilling winds blowing off the ocean. For the vast majority of the nation, August means dog days with a crushing combination of heat and humidity. Bring it on, I say, I love grappling with the heat. But shivering in the clouds is just miserable. I've experienced it both times doing this ride. You'd think living in San Francisco I'd come to accept the fog, but I cannot. It's just not in my physiology. And with a forecast for a "mild weekend", "mild" in this context is anything but.


But surviving adversity is what doubles are all about. After the descent to the coast comes the endless, leg-sapping rollers northward -- northward to Pt Reyes Station. That's where my sights are set.

In Point Reyes Station is where the ride really begins for me. From there, it's not far before we converge with the 200 km course. The fog is gone, the temperatures rise a bit, and the business of just turning the cranks begins. The real issue here is pacelines. They're excellent for progress, but they can easily lead to red zone violations which can be very, very costly later.

The climbing rears again as we approach Sonoma. First Bay Road, then the feared Coleman Valley Road must be passed. But I look forward to these. I get to ride my own pace, looking forward to the recovery from the subsequent descents. Sonoma is characterized by some of the gnarliest pavement in the first world. But I run my Michelin 25 mm tires on the comfy side of 90 psi, so I should be fine.

After Coleman, it's still a long way to the finish, including the Marshall Wall. But Marshall is over quickly, and there's the distraction of cheering on slower double-metric and century riders along the way. By this point, you can smell the finish. Phasers are locked, Captain.

Equipment... weight weeniesm takes a distant back seat tomorrow, despite the climbing volume. I have a new front wheel built with a Velocity 23 mm rim: heavier, but in theory offering more comfort, better rolling resistance, and superior aerodynamics to my 19 mm rim (avoiding the 25 mm tire "muffin top"). My rear rim is still narrow, built on my brick-like PowerTap hub. Power information is extremely useful on a ride like this for pacing. My super-light Becker saddle is tucked away safely at home: instead I am using my SLR with KNC seat-post. And my excellently light but not excellently secure ExtraLite stem is swapped for a tried-and-true Performance Forte, retrofitted with Ti bolts, which also offers a slightly slacker rise angle for more comfort for the long day.

With a 5 am start, lights are mandatory. My rear is a minimalist Krog: barely visible, but with the mass start, that's unimportant. On the front my Cateye MicroNewt. I'll have more to say on that later, but when it's working well, it works very well. But it has major problems.

Anyway, second by second, tomorrow comes closer. All I need to do is: (1) not sleep through my alarms, (2) have my taxi show up, (3) have the taxi get there successfully, (4) not forget anything critical like helmet or shoes, (5) #2. Then it's just a matter of "keep pedaling".

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