Sunday, September 20, 2009

Knoxville the Fourth

Knoxville Double Century, 9/19/09

The Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century has an excellent reputation among the CalTripleCrown riders, for plenty of good reasons. No wonder it's also one of my favorites. Come to think of it, nearly all of those doubles are among my favorites. But the Knoxville is special, because over the last three years John C. and I made it into our personal tradition to ride it together. And it's special for me because I have always been handicapped one way or the other with deficient health when we went there. With John's help and patient waiting, I managed to finish each time (albeit slowly) and I always felt better at the finish than at the start.

This time, three things turned out to be different:
a) I felt I was in good health and form
b) John called on Friday evening telling me he had a sore throat with fever and could not come
c) the weather forecast promised much higher temperatures than ever in the three past years.

One thing didn't change, however: I still finished slowly.

Here are some more photos from the ride - by somebody much faster than I ...

The profile below indicates that it's not a particularly easy ride. Units are metric; if you prefer body parts for measurement: 900 meters ~ 3000 ft. The total elevation gain is somewhere around 13000 ft.

The ride is not timed, and the start time is "open": as soon as you are signed in, you can start. In the past, we always started between 4:30 and 4:45. This time (I don't know why; hubris?) I started at 5:00. I rolled along, alone, waiting for the fast guys who started later to pass me. But there were not many - even the stronger riders had left before me! It didn't matter; I felt confident and enjoyed the ride. At the first rest stop in Napa Valley, I could catch up with a bunch of riders and leave before them - I definitely was not the last on the road.

The lengthy Howell Mountain climb at mile 50 (km 80) also felt a little easier than in the past. Unfortunately, my rhythm got broken by the rear tire losing pressure. When I removed the wheel and tried to locate the culprit, I found it immediately and painfully: a hair-thin wire stuck out and stuck itself into my forefinger. It hurt for at least 30 miles.

Still, I arrived at the Lake Berryessa rest stop on schedule, caught up on some calorie and liquid deficit, and went on my way over the lonely and pittoresque Knoxville Road to Lower Lake. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge some tired leg muscles by now; but this was to be expected and not troublesome (yet). With the help of a gentle tailwind, I felt stronger than I was.

The idyllic pleasurable climbing was not to last, however. At least as far as the idyll is concerned - because the climbing became more and more accentuated and eventually outright barbaric. I remembered that from the last years and expected it. But this year, we had some scorching heat to go with it, well symbolized by the scorched grass on the road side:

At work, I have nearly every day lunch with my coworkers at the company cafeteria with outside seating under sun shades. My coworkers know that I can make good use of heat adaptation training and always reserve me a seat out of the shade, in full sun. - Well, now I can tell them that this still wasn't nearly enough. By the time I arrived at the water stop at the top, I was cooked. It would have been unsafe to continue into the descent without recovering first, regardless of the time I had already lost during my super-slow climb.

Instead of arriving at the lunch stop in Lower Lake around 2 p.m. as expected, I was now 45 minutes late (in my defense: I must have lost about ten minutes for fixing the flat). I allowed myself another 30 minutes of recovery anyway, with a burrito and three bottles of sugary icy liquids - I needed it.

The last major obstacle was the upcoming infamous Loch Lomond climb. I knew I was now mainly in company of riders who were virtually candidates for not finishing, and so I made the point of climbing steadily (if still slowly). I must have done something right, because I passed several riders who I didn't see any more later. It helped that most of the road was in the shade, and that at 4 - 5 in the afternoon, the sun had become much less aggressive. On the way back through Pope Valley, I felt lucky that the wind was mostly favorable, and I tried to make some good time again and started evaluating whether I could still arrive before 11 p.m. for a sub-18 hour time (I know that sounds pathetic to many of my readers).

I don't venture a guess whether this was a realistic goal or not. It doesn't matter, because I decided to stay with Karla when I caught up with her somewhere on the 128 towards Winters. My legs were grateful for not pushing quite so hard any more; and some friendly chatting (I knew her from last year's Borrego Springs Double, and we have some common friends) made the miles through the dark night go by much faster. Eventually, we checked in at 11:30 p.m., under the big applause which is usually reserved either for the first or the last. In our case, it turned out to be the latter...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Only a 200

San Francisco Randonneurs "Russian River" 200k brevet, September 12, 2009

First and foremost, about the title: apologies to any reader who feels that riding 30 or 50 or 100 miles is a huge achievement - it is (as long as you are not thoroughly used to the distance). I honestly don't mean to belittle 200 km = 125 miles either; after all, it happened this year at the end of June to myself that I couldn't finish one of those (as mentioned in the first paragraph here). And to begin with, it also depends on how hard you ride, of course; the distance itself doesn't tell the whole story. - On the other hand, I had a dream several years ago (when I still dreamed about brevet riding, instead of actually doing it) where the 200 km distance appeared as really short (compared to, say, a 1200 km randonnée). And since I progressed in my apprenticeship over the last years and already accumulated a nice collection of brevets this year (one 200, five 300s, one 400, three 600s, and a 1200), I understand why a place like this (scroll down to the cyclist) suggests I consider a 200 a "little baby ride."

The truth is (and now I am spilling the beans, if you haven't heard it yet - which would be a surprise to me): I am preparing myself for the Endless Mountains 1240 and I better do something to get stronger and faster. And so, I designated this 200 km brevet as "serious training," meaning I intended to ride it as hard as possible. Not necessarily with the best possible finishing time; I might "blow up" somewhere along the way and waste much more time while recovering than what I gained while riding hard. Also, I didn't intend to keep the control stops as short as possible by all means. Just put some real load on the legs and lungs and the cardiovascular system, and hope for the best. Because it's "only a 200" (ha!), there is not much to lose.

I rode this route last year already, and I love it. It's not extremely hard, but certainly not easy either. The accumulated elevation gain of nearly 7500 ft doesn't include many long climbs, but rather a great number of little kickers which break the rhythm and encourage to push harder than reasonable - just what I need in preparation for the EM1240.

On Friday evening, I checked the weather forecast: perfect! But about an hour before my wake-up alarm, I was awakened by heavy drops falling on the roof - and by violent lightning. At the last minute, I decided to bring my rain jacket along ...

During the 60-mile drive to the start, I kept looking into spectacular lightning strokes ahead, except through the San Francisco area which was shrouded in thick fog with roads all wet from intermittent rain. The start in San Rafael was dry, but the clouds sure were threatening, and the RBA Rob Hawks warned about predicted dry lightning. I decided to start with my rain jacket ...

The first sustained climb after about five miles gave me an opportunity to put my plans for this ride in practice. Randonneur friends who saw me take off into no man's land between the faster and slower halves of the participants later told me how they quipped "Joseph is riding hard today because it's only a 200" (so, that's where the title of this post comes from, then?). No matter what, I was most surprised myself that I managed to catch up to Mark E. and to stay with him for about 80 miles. It was obvious to me that he is much stronger than I; so, just staying at his rear wheel and keeping up with him on the climbs was a big boost in self-confidence for me. The only problem was that sometimes he started talking to me while climbing, and I couldn't respond because I was out of breath - but that was to be expected. We didn't manage to catch anyone of the faster riders ahead (except at the Valley Ford control where they waited out the worst of the rain - with headwind! - because they were not prepared for the bad weather like myself. And the friends behind only caught up when we stayed for more than ten minutes at a control; but we always left before them.

Towards the lunch stop at the Duncan Mills control (above the General Store, with a dog inspecting our bikes - what is it that makes bicycles so intriguing for dogs?), the roads finally dried up and we could even see a spot of blue sky. The blue sky wouldn't last out to the coast and along the coast, as could be predicted; but at least, the roads stayed dry and the temperatures, while still cool, allowed me to continue without the rain jacket.

I continued to try to match Mark's accelerations across the rollers on Hwy 1 towards Bodega Bay; but when the first cramps shot up in the calves and thighs, I understood it was "Game Over!" On arriving in Bodega Bay, I was so "cooked" that I missed the Diekman's Store control by absentmindedness - Mark had to call after me to make me stop. I needed a longer recovery stop there than Mark, and I convinced him that it didn't make sense to wait for me.

This picture from Diekman's Store in Bodega Bay,
as well as the one below from the Marshall Store,
is from last year's edition - this year, the sky remained all gray there.
However, check out Jim G's photos here - they give a good impression of the day.

I continued for a while in "recovery ride mode", and the recovery worked all the better now that we enjoyed the tailwind corresponding to what we had as headwind in the morning. Nothing like a good tailwind to further boost self-confidence through the illusion of being much stronger than I really am! And so I arrived at the Marshall Store control again before the faster guys and gals had left, and before my friends behind had caught up with me - they arrived just a couple of minutes later. Now I was back in the business of making this brevet into a serious training proposition for me, and I tried to figure out how fast I could possibly be on the last 30 miles to the finish. One hour and 54 minutes later I had the answer, and was quite happy with it (total time 9h30, including some generous stops).

Of course, the tailwind helped - but I still had to climb ...!

I checked in at the finish control in the parking lot (where it was even sunny!), took advantage of some goodies provided, and did my favorite socializing spiel.

The legs got stiff quickly, but that's what I had been aiming at since the morning - this ride should make me stronger!
We'll see ...

Fittingly (regarding the first paragraph above), here is a quote from today's post on 449 km:

"The San Francisco Randonneurs will be holding their first Populaire event. Details can be found here

Quite a number of riders don't jump feet first into doing 200km (and longer) rides, but instead build up with a series of shorter rides. The Populaire event is meant to offer a shorter distance ride with all the aspects of a brevet, including brevet cards, controls, mass starts, time limits and the usual reliance on rider self sufficiency for route finding and dealing with pitfalls a rider might face out on the road, such as flat tires and having food and water enough to reach the next control.

As mentioned, this will be SFR's first time holding this event. We expect to learn a lot and use that knowledge for the next time we hold this event in 2010. If you read this and are interested in participating or supporting this event, please send mail to Thanks for reading."

Unfortunately, I won't be able to be there myself - I'll still be in the woods of Pennsylvania on that day (10/3).