The cycling club has group training rides for any kind of upcoming event. If there is an ultra-long range or a suicidal masochistic experience that your wife signed you up for – then this training ride is for you. The Saturday morning rides are designed to ramp up the mileage every week, higher and higher, to get your body in condition to withstand the hours in the saddle and to re-learn how to hydrate and feed while riding. This way, when Ride-the Rockies comes around, you can do 500 miles over 7 days, no problem mind you since you have been training, up and down the mountains. Last week, my friend Rob rode on the first Saturday ride of the year. I follow him on a fitness application and saw it was a 40 mile ride. I saw the average speed was close to what I normally do by myself and thought this would be what I need and what I am ready to do. I wanted to get a 40 mile ride, I need to spend more time riding in groups and to learn a bit more about pace lines and that sort of thing. This was to be the longest I have ever ridden at once, but not that much farther than I’ve done twice before. I finally solved the hydration/calorie issue and was comfortable on the bike since I had the fitting. I fixed pancakes for the family and loaded myself up with a few and then drove on down to the start – the organizers house.
Roy’s driveway had a table of fueling foods. Bagels, juice, peanut butter, a honey bear and laying there a clip board showing the ride dates and distances. Several guys were standing around with very un-feminine yet structurally awesome legs chuckling about random conversations and eating peanut-butter bagels slathered with honey. Looking at the clip board I saw 40 miles was last week. Today I was destined to do 60 – or doomed was more like it. I thought I would be home by 1 pm. That assumption was so wrong now. I considered how much nutrition I brought and decided that I had enough and I should stop silently panicking. I had my caloric infused water and an energy bar I bought from some mellow dude named Cliff and a new set of slightly more recommended bib shorts in an effort to stem the tide of sore sit-bones the previous pair was likely causing. The edges of the chamois padding after thirty miles would develop a small fold or crease creating a hot spot seam where I sat. Going past thirty miles would become awful. I was hopeful this pair would fix my posterior position and started in. The ride started great. Everyone was going at my usual pace along the flats. Climbs however showed my weakness.
Cyclists, to be all around capable, must have a well-rounded muscle group for all situations. Since I check the Caucasian box, that well rounded muscle group is missing from my backside. I slowly trudge up the hills and the rest flutter past me having spent years and years exercising their backsides to correct their genetic issue. At the top of the first climb, a short one that’s really not all that tough and less than a mile, we wait for the last of us. The sweeper at the moment, the man in back to help those with flats or mechanicals, is a man named Malcolm. He is turning sixty-five this year and today is riding one hundred miles. Because he wants to but also, If I heard this right, is riding the double triple bypass event later on in the year. That event is 240 miles over two days and involves over 20,000 feet of climbing. Denver to Vail and back. He has already ridden twenty miles before starting with this group. Did I mention that I just turned forty and haven’t ridden more than thirty-six miles at any single time in life?
That was a nice warm-up. I set a personal best up that hill which is good news because two days ago I climbed the same hill and felt like a complete dog the whole time. Ten miles down. We set off towards Lyons, CO and slightly north into apple valley and to the first real climb. Just so you know, a half mile at a 22% grade means probably 6 miles per hour and for the second half of that, thoughts of where all those gears went are constant. “I thought I had more gears!” We will skip this part, but after the climb the rest of the route was rolling hills and good views that let my heart back down from 183 beats per minute. A turnaround at the end and back down to Lyons for a brief break was scheduled.
I had an espresso! I think. It really didn’t do much in me. I couldn’t tell any difference except for the twenty dollar bill was now a roll of $18. I had another bottle of water/mix left which should take care of my electrolytes and the +1 bar of Cliff should provide the additional calories on top of that. I was sitting at twenty-eight miles and we all deliberated what we wanted to do next. Continue the route or for those that did not want to could split off and head back. For those that wanted to go on there was one more climb to do and then it would be straight back to the house where we began. Some had already put in miles before this ride. One person said he was looking at four hours on the bike and that was enough. He had to go skiing tomorrow. Another had to drive into Denver that afternoon to do some work. Mentioning my previous thirty-plus mile rides to friends or family living outside Colorado is met with great appreciation and in some cases, demographically brought on astonishment. (Just try riding 30 miles in Buffalo, If you like being run over that is. Hence the amazement from in-laws over anyone riding any distance. ) In this state, Seventy mile rides are a drop in the bucket! Fifty-mile rides are considered quick weekend spins and during the week thirty miles once or twice a week is normal behavior. I was anticipating the feeling of being destroyed after seeing that clip board of sixty-miles and I was actually feeling decent. I’m going into the last hill ready to see what it’s all about but I did have a fear of hitting a wall sometime soon. I was not all that sure my provisions were enough.
Rabbit Mountain is a government open space. The road into it dead ends at the top of another twenty something percent climb. Well, it actually becomes a network of privately maintained roads with many keep-out signs. Getting there was a few miles up a road with an unnoticeable incline uphill, sort of like the tax deadline. You don’t know it’s there until you’re at the end. The big hill was just like the one before; however, this time it was at thirty-six miles. This was the farthest I had ridden yet at any single time and here was a hill served up for me. My muscles were showing signs of use at this point. I wasn’t dehydrated, but I was possibly starting a calorie deficiency. Getting up a steep hill like that is best done by spinning that last granny gear. I can go faster if I have the power but I really had no idea if I had that or not. If I chose to go deep into the lactate burn, I wouldn’t make it but I felt I couldn’t spin slower and be comfortable. I finally learned, that to make it I had to quit trying, but not quit. My legs had their own weight. I just had to focus on picking them up and let them fall down. My revolutions slowed a bit but I didn’t stop and I didn’t feel like I was going to run out of steam. I made it to the top. Not all but many of the guys waiting there had grey hair.
Downhill is fun! The fastest speed I recorded was forty-three miles-per-hour. This was limited a little bit by several riders in front. This is also the moment I was hit squarely on the bridge of the nose by a small round bug. We eventually formed a bit of a pace line back out the way we came in. The wind was ust a slight breeze from the west and as we went south the pace was at about 29mph and I rotated to the front to pull a little bit and then back, as we turned west I rotated to the front and pulled along a bit. Just that little bit of wind slowed the pace to 25mph. I recorded an average of 250 watts during this work and I could feel the drain. It wasn’t sudden but I knew I wasn’t going to last long at what was sort of comfortable before. We began our trip back over rolling hills, pretty much flat stuff through Seventeen miles to go. There is a stretch of a dip down, and then a climb back up and on that up climb is where the lack of gas was felt. After that I drank the last of my water and the list bit of the Cliff bar. I could finish but I had no idea if I would see that strain induced headache caused by the lack of electrolytes. For the last ten miles, my heart rate was at 170 or just over. Typically I never saw it into the 170 range unless there were some hills or harder effort parts. I’m comfortable with it but at this point it showed I was getting fatigued. My body was running out of fuel. Roy and another rider were in the back and helped a bit with some drafting and pacing. I wasn’t a lost cause yet, I just would not be able to maintain that nearly 20 mph the front group was doing. After the last downhill stretch, I put the coals to the last hard effort cruise I could muster just to finish strong and only had twenty seconds of that. It did not make much of a difference. 23mph. Roy and the other guy were not too far behind me. Roy is retired and also riding in the double-triple-by-pass this year.
In the grand scheme, I wasn’t too bad in the end. I finished strong enough. If I had kept going I would have had problems that make me pray for the end. I was at that tipping point and learned a lot about how the body behaves and reacts. Other riders talked a bit about how they didn’t drink enough or also didn’t have the right balance of what they brought to eat and drink. They were also learning what they need for this year. The recovery provided was a tray of more peanut butter bagels with honey, a few free cans of beer from a club sponsor and all the chocolate milk you might want to drink. The combination sounds dreadful I’m sure. Looking at the platter academically there’s the recovery your body needs, just pick your poison. Beer has quickly absorbed and metabolized sugars you happily need, peanut butter has the protein, chocolate milk refuels the muscles very quickly. If I made a peanut-butter and honey bagel sandwich with beer and a milk chaser I would probably unswallow it all, out the window, on the drive home. My little GPS computer and budget power meter tells me I burned 2,600 calories on that ride. I’m trying to recover but have to do it slowly. I just don’t feel too hungry – another sign of being close to problems. I should have felt ravenous.
I cycled 55 miles in the end. My sit-bones were not overly sore and felt about the same from mile 25 until the end. I averaged 17.6 mph, averaged 215 watts output for the whole three hours and climbed a total of 2,300 vertical feet. That was a very good ride and thanks to the drink mix I was using, (I must plug them: Hammer nutrition HEED) I did not have any ill effects afterward driving home. In fact I cleaned up and the family and I went out to look at boulders for a yard project. It’s funny you see, because we live in boulder county, where there’s boulders and we’re looking at boulders.
Next? Now I know how to endure for longer. Now I know what to eat and drink later on. Now I can ride harder and try to do that 20mph average on a 20 mile ride soon. I know I have a long way to go and am doing well and getting batter at this. I now know I need to really step up the work on climbing muscles especially If I am to try cyclocross this fall. I will be required to run up a staircase holding my bike over my shoulder a few times in an hour. It would be nice to have a rear end that lets me do that.