Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Soaking it up

I'm learning that after a long, forced break from riding, I recover quite quickly after punishing efforts. This may be due to not pushing intensity too high. Today I changed that. I attempted VO2max intervals for the first time in nearly three months. These are the staple of my training, where I believe I derive the greatest bang per kilojoule expended.

There are variants of two loops from work I do frequently. When there is a need for speed or steady threshold work, there's the Boston Post/Rt 101 loop, with no steep climbs and some long stretches with no traffic interference. For VO2max work, I prefer a loop with short climbs that last 3-6 minutes. A Pine Hill Rd/Ting Hill Rd/Ponemah Hill Rd loop fulfills this need. Notice all the roads have "hill" in the name.

I wasn't sure what to expect. VO2max intervals are unpleasant when I'm in peak form. They especially suck when you are having an off day.  I wasn't exactly fully recovered from Sunday's three hour trail ride.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well things went. I din't have my PowerTap mounted, but I was able to sustain some pretty long, intense out of the saddle efforts cresting these hills. My ankle is finally strong enough to tolerate this. I rode with DanM, and we did four solid VO2max efforts with a couple threshold efforts along the way.  This certainly stressed things in my legs beyond anything I've done so far. I'm curious to see how quickly residual effects dissipate.

A few readers have cautioned me in comments and emails about doing too much too soon. Racing would be a bad idea, as you don't think rationally in the heat of battle. That is why I'm forfeiting Leadville in a couple weeks (and I'd probably DNF anyway). I've always felt I listen to my body well. I've been riding pretty hard for 13 years now and have not experienced any kind of overuse injury.  Maybe good genetics is a factor here. There are times where I recognize my body needs a short break. There's training block fatigue, and there's over training. One is beneficial, the other bad. Without an independent observer, say a coach, it may not be easy to tell when normal fatigue crosses over into over training fatigue.

For now, my body seems to soak everything up I throw at it. I don't notice much imbalance between the legs on the bike anymore. In fact, my left calf has gained nearly an inch in girth in the last two weeks. That is substantial recovery in muscle mass. There is only about 0.5" difference in the girth of my calves now, although the definition and shape between the two is still vastly different.

Planning to up the ante again this weekend by riding the Jay Peak 186k (see sidebar) on Saturday with one or two other riders. This ride increases mileage by 28% and vertical by 50% from last weekend.  Forecast looks spectacular.  The pace will definitely be more subdued than last weekend's ride in the Whites if I'm to survive. More endurance work is needed before I can ramp up the shorter, high intensity efforts. Plus I would really like to be in shape enough to travel somewhere for several days of epic trail riding this fall. If you are interested in joining me Saturday and are cool with a more relaxed pace than a typical Hill Junkie mountain fest, let me know.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Friday's pummelling in the White Mountains pretty much left me in a catatonic state all day Saturday. Nothing hurt in particular. My energy systems were completely tapped. It would take more than the 1.5 Thon Khao dinners I ate Friday night to replenish the reserves (Cathy can only eat half her's). Given a chance, I would jump right into a hard ride like that all over again. I really enjoy riding in the mountains. By Sunday, I was bouncing back already. It seems my body is ready to start soaking up volume again.

I was itching to do a little trail riding Sunday. I'm still leery of hitting anything technical. That rules out about 99% of riding terrain in New England. I read that NEMBA continues to build trails at Franklin Falls Dam. It has been a couple years since I last swung by there. I recall buff beginner singletrack, which would suit me just fine right now.

Franklin Falls is a small area though. To seek ride expansion options, I went to the keeper of all knowledge, Google. It appeared there was some kind of a road or old rail grade on the other side of the Pemigawasset River from the Franklin Falls riding area. There was bound to be ATV trails or jeep road spurs off from it. It was well worth exploring.

It had rained heavily overnight at Franklin Falls. Flood plain soil is a gravelly mix, so it drains extremely well. The dew point was high, however, so the roots and occasional rocks remained greasy. This gave me the willies. I have this extreme phobia of having to put a foot down. A controlled planned stop, no problem. Rear wheel slide out on root, major problem. There are two issues here. One is psychological, in that I don't want to get hurt again, and something as harmless as dabbing really messed me up. The other is my left ankle is still far from fully healed, and I don't want to risk re-injury. Needless to say, I hesitated many times when normally I wouldn't flinch in the slightest.

Two new trails I had to hit since I was last there were Mighty Chicken and Salmon Brook. I had no idea what Mighty Chicken was about. It essentially was a reduced scale model of Sidewinder at Kingdom Trails. Yeah, it was that good, and it weirded me out. If it weren't for the "chicken" path down the middle of the ravine, I probably wouldn't have committed to riding it. I did bail on a couple of the banks, more vertical than horizontal, with moist roots exposed. Many of you have no idea what I'm talking about here. Sidewinder at Kingdom Trails switch-backs across a very deep ravine, starting from the high end and exiting out the bottom. You totally G-out crossing the bottom each time you fly up the other side. Think of it as nature's half pipe.

The Salmon Brook trail was cut this year. It has signs warning of its technical nature. Yeah, I thought, technical at Franklin Falls is probably easy at most other places. Well, it was pretty technical. On a dry day pre-injury, I would not have hesitated on it. Today, I just couldn't make myself give all of it a go. I dismounted several times. I now have much greater appreciation for people who retain fears after an injury or bad crash. The trail is a superb piece of work though. It is a nice complement to the easier terrain. There is probably 12 miles of singletrack here now without repeating anything. If you ride the double tracks and hit all of the singletrack with a little repeating, you could probably get in a 20 mile ride now at Franklin Falls. This makes it a suitable "destination" riding area for many people.

Bench cut Salmon Brook Trail

What I cherished most from this ride was not in Franklin Falls park. It was on the other side of the Pemi. I first had to figure out how to cross the dam. I assumed from riding here last time that you could just ride across and connect with Rt 3a on the other side. Nope. A giant spillway existed between the paved part of the dam structure and the road on the other side. There was a marked snowmobile trail below on the backstop side though. That got me across.

Weedy singletrack on west side of the Pemi.

Turns out there is an abandoned gravel road between Rt 3a and the Pemi. Looks like there were farms on it before the Army Corps of Engineers built the flood control dam. This left the homesteads in the floodplain and were probably relocated.  6.1 miles of this road is gated but still maintained, probably for winter snow machine use. This was perfect to get my aerobic fix in without worrying about silly things like ankles. The road passes through many habitats, from wetlands to meadows to forest. I thought to myself, some sweet singletrack could be built on either side of this road. Well, I found some at the Profile Falls end. I suspect the trails are used mostly by horses, being a bit choppy in a few spots. For a while, I thought I was teleported to Kingdom Trails. Lot of the same vibe here.

Contour singletrack along the Pemi.

Working my way back, I got nipped by a passing shower and decided not to explore any more of the spur trails. I'm sure there are some more nuggets in that area. Many off road riders would be bored to death by riding a double track, but gated, no cars or people, beats the heck out of riding the road any day.

Profile Falls. Kids jump 20+ feet of the rock on left into sliver
of water between rock outcroppings.

I finished with 31 miles in 2:50hrs riding time.  Nothing very strenuous, but some nice blocks of tempo effort in there. 8.5hrs riding for the weekend has me considering expanded options for Colorado at the end of August. I'm flying out to do the inaugural Pikes Peak hillclimb on August 29. I cancelled a planned early August trip for the Leadville 100 race. There's no way I'd be ready for something like that. But a few weeks later, maybe staying a few extra days for riding stuff around Salida is possible.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Schooled in the Whites

Armed with some confidence after last weekend's riding, I thought I was ready to step things up a notch. The 4NaaP (Four Notches and a Pass) ride in the White Mountains on my off-Friday sounded good. This ride would double the distance and vertical I did in Vermont last weekend. Being out of a cast for over a week now, the thought did enter my mind that this could be over-reaching a bit. I finished last weekend's 47 miler fighting off cramps the last half hour.

Joining me would be Dave Penney, who is riding wicked strong this year, and Jon Speer, a top Cat 1 rider from the southeast. Jon gave the local strongmen a run for their money at Wompatuck on Tuesday.  What was I thinking?

This was the first cool day since May at least. Maybe since February. Suited me well, since I was stuck in AC for nine weeks straight. We hit Kinsman Notch first. I stayed with Jon and Dave, thinking that was way harder than I should have gone and I'll certainly pay for it later. The other two were just warming up. I learned Jon possesses many skills. Texting while climbing a mountain pass is one of them. Heading down the other side of Kinsman, I learned Jon knows how to descend.  He has this formidable position on the bike that a) leaves nothing for the wind to push against, and b) leaves nothing for riders behind him to draft. You know how descending is supposed to be, right? Where the guy up front kills himself putting out massive Watts and those in tow are coasting and riding brakes.  Dave and I were confounded later in the ride when neither of us could stay on Jon's wheel hammering while he coasted up front. Granted, Jon has a bit different body geometry that more easily let's him achieve this aero position, but it shows I have a lot of room for improvement.

Turning onto Rt 116, we hit all those nasty little rollers. Dave loved lighting it up on these. Each one was more nails in my coffin, as I could not simply hide in the draft. I knew at this peaky pace, this ride would not bode well for me.

We wasted no time getting to Rt 18, the climb up to Cannon Mountain. This short bugger packs a punch, something like 1000ft in two miles. I knew enough to throttle back from the start if I was to finish this ride. Dave hit it hard with Jon in tow, but then Dave either caved or Jon turned it up another notch or both. I still went pretty hard, near my Mt Ascutney pace last weekend. I crested the top 40sec behind Dave and minutes behind Jon.

The loop takes a bit of bike path to bypass I-93 and link up Rt 3. Rt 3 is nice, as it is about 9 miles of mostly slight downhill to the village of Twin Mountain. I planned to be a parasite on Dave and Jon's wheels.

Dave and Jon on Rt 302

We stopped at the Irving station on Rt 302 by Bretton Woods. The ride was not yet half over, but I was three quarters cooked. Not a good situation, as once we bomb down Crawford Notch, I was fully committed to the remaining two climbs. I went down the 13% grade of Crawford at well over 50mph, yet Jon became a tiny dot in the distance in just seconds. WTF! It took Dave and I a good while to catch back on.

Bear Notch Rd was just repaved. It wasn't in that bad of shape climbing from the Bartlett side to begin with, but I bet it is a superb descent now. The other two said they were going to take it easy on this one. Yeah, yeah. Everybody says that. In fact, before the ride, Jon commented he's "ridden hard all week" and is "only a sprinter". Those are code words for "you're in for a serious ass-whooping."  Dave set pace initially, and I thought I can do this, I'm not cramping yet. Then Jon takes over, and the pace continuously inched up for the second half of the climb. I threw in the towel about 2/3 of the way up. I recall last year I was the guy stringing others out until nobody was left on my wheel on this climb.  At this point, I knew I was screwed on Kancamagus Pass. I was done.

It was fairly warm now, and I nearly emptied my two water bottles already. After the brief Bear Notch descent down to the Kanc, there's about 5 miles of nearly flat riding before the steep stuff starts.  I had nothing left.  Half way up, I realized my pie plate 34t cassette with 38t ring did not go low enough. The ride had degenerated into full-on death march for me. Interestingly, I had a 21mph average going into this climb, easily a PR pace for this loop. This was due only to scabbing off the efforts of others when not climbing. But when you go 6-8mph for half an hour, a PR finishing time is obliterated. My averaged dropped to 19mph.  I became one unhappy person slogging up. Walking would not have been much slower and might stave off cramping that was certain to come anytime.

I bet Jon and Dave were ready to send search and rescue for me by the time I reached the top. Now just if I could hold a wheel on the way down, I'd be all set. It is 14 miles, all downhill, back to Lincoln. But remember what I said about Jon's descending prowess? Dave and I were left scratching our heads again. We regrouped part way down, where Jon towed us back. After some recovery, I thought I was good to take a solid pull. Silly me. 30 seconds in, my left leg cataclysmically seized up. I tried right leg pedaling with left unclipped. That immediately sent my right leg into spasms. I was in a sorry state with just 4 miles to go. The other two graciously waited for me as I worked the spasms out. This happened a couple more times before reaching the car.

So what was my riding time? 4:41hrs, exactly one minute faster than last year, which I thought was a blistering pace. But last year, I did a lot of the work and was able to slay the climbs. Clawing my way back from injury this year, I barely survived the climbs and shamelessly sucked wheels the rest of the time. Wheel suckage does work, more than making up for my diminished ability.

So glad that was over with. What does not destroy me, makes makes me stronger, right?  I debated whether there was any value in going to physical therapy that evening. I feared my ankle would mushroom. There was barely enough time to go out for dinner with the wife, so I didn't even ice my ankle. Surprisingly, I did not swell up at all. In fact, the PT staff said my ankle looked really good. When I told them what I did in the morning, I just got blank stares. I guess they don't have too many patients that go on 94 mile mountainous bike rides a week after getting out of a cast.

It was great to finally meet Jon, who's spending time with family this week. We tried on a couple other occasions to hook up, both here and in North Carolina. It's rare to meet someone who excels in crits yet thrives in epic mountain fest rides. Perhaps when I'm in better form, I can join Jon in one of the timed hundred milers that are very popular in the southeast.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ascutney Status Check

Barely five days out of a cast, I decided another check-up was necessary. This wasn't like the check-up on Monday when I visited the orthopedic surgeon that repaired my ankle. It was just as vital though. As an athlete, I had to know where I was at.

I've heard all kinds numbers on detraining, where athletes have forced down time due to injury or illness. A tri-guy friend of mine cited I would lose no more than 10% after eight weeks of being totally sedentary, probably from some chart by Daniels. I was far from totally sedentary for eight weeks, yet I could tell I lost far more than 10% of my fitness.

Doing a little research on the subject, well conditioned athletes lose fitness in different systems at different rates. Blood volume and glycogen storage are first to go. Muscle capillary density and muscle fiber composition are last to go. Things like VO2max and power at threshold fall somewhere in between. One example I came across showed an Olympic rower lost 27% power in eight weeks off. I think this is more consistent with my experience.

After an encouraging training ride on Tuesday, I decided to enter the Mt Ascutney hillclimb race.  I equipped my hillclimb bike with heavyish MTB derailleur and cassette, as I suspected I would need lower gears than usual.  Two weeks ago, I would have put my time on Ascutney at 36 minutes based on climbing Pack Monadnock.  After finally shedding the boot cast and more time on the bike, I got a better sense of my fitness. I was now almost certainly faster than 36 minutes, but probably not faster than 32 minutes. My Ascutney PR is 28:14 minutes.

I didn't exactly treat this benchmarking exercise very seriously. The night before, between work and physical therapy, I stopped at Five Guys burger joint. I've maintained a very clean diet over the last couple months. I had some missed dietary indiscretion to make up. Might as well do it at Five Guys. The meat and potatoes are never frozen. The cheeseburger left grease dripping off my elbow. They threw a whole lunch sack's worth of fries in the bag. The grease soaked right through.  It was disgusting. Disgustingly good. Everybody needs to do this once in a great while. So what was my penalty? I must have ate a week's worth of sodium. I could not stop drinking water, and by Saturday morning, I had gained three pounds! I was now back up to pre-injury weight.

It was extremely hot Saturday, probably the hotest in the 11 years the race has run. It is just long enough to push me into thermal shut down, which takes about 20 minutes when really hot. I lined up near the back of my 40-49 field, with some overall contenders like John Bayley and Gerry Clapper taking front row.

We go off. Three quarters of the field leaves me in their sweat plume. Normally I'm first or second guy leading this field after the start. I stayed on Brett Rutledge's wheel. I train with Brett and know his metrics well. If he was paying attention to his power meter, he shouldn't be going out too hard, and neither should I. I figured my best possible time on this day would be right around Brett's time.

A minute or two after the start, I asked Brett what his power was. 400W. Oh. I might average 360W in good form on this climb, so 400W was way too high. I throttled back. After a mile or so, Brett slowly slipped away. I wasn't particularly suffering, I was just going as hard as my legs could. It is very true that when you become highly fit, it doesn't get easier, you just go faster. The converse is also true. If you lose fitness, it doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

Around two miles up, my thermal cork popped. I started getting that weird nauseating chills feeling. I know it all too well. My body does a fine job of regulating itself. It shuts down for me so I don't destroy myself. I don't think anybody passed me, as we were quite spread out by this point. Then after the dip at mile 3.4, I see Brett stopped and fussing with his bike. I assumed his chain dropped after momentarily going to the big ring. Happens there all the time. He remounts, only to stop again. I could hear cussing now. He must have had a minute on me before this. I passed him with only a few hundred meters to go.

I finished with 32:35 minutes, near the fast end of the range I figured I'd be in. Pretty good considering the heat. I probably could have broken 32 minutes had it been cooler. Earlier this spring, I was in fine position to PR Ascutney. Let's assume I would have matched my PR of 28:14 from a couple years ago had I not been injured. I was 15% slower than that. Ascutney is climbed just above threshold, so it is reasonable to say that my W/kg@LT is 15% below where I should be right now. That is after two 10-hour weeks of riding after 8 weeks of no riding. I could easily have been down 25% two weeks ago.

Studies show it can take twice as long to regain fitness as it took to lose it. Thus if I lost 8 weeks, it may take me 16 weeks to get back to where I was. This assumes I have no complications from my injury. Right now, I still cannot train with the same intensity, especially muscular force, as I did before my injury. My ankle isn't strong enough yet. I think it will be in another week or two.

Catching up with Brett at the summit, it turns out he popped a spoke in his front wheel, a Zipp 202 I believe. He could barely turn the wheel with his hand with calipers opened all the way up. Brett was clearly on a PR pace, so this was quite a bummer for him.

Raina and crew have flawlessly executed this event for the last couple years now. The food and beverages up top were perfect - including fresh cut oranges, watermellon and cantalope. Of course, I had to go for the cookies, chips and salsa too. There were also rice and potato salads. Awards were promptly held at the summit about the time they started letting riders back down.

Four of us did a 47 mile loop after the race. We went over Tyson Rd, through Ludlow, then back via scenic Rt 131. The traffic kind of sucked, and road conditions continue to deteriorate. The Tyson Rd descent is always a treat though.  It took about 2.5hrs, and for the last hour I was fighting full onslaught of cramps. Perhaps this was a bit much so soon after being turned loose to ride again.

I had moderately severe swelling in the evening. Edema is a weird thing. It is like those memory foam mattresses you see advertised on TV. I can put a perfect hand imprint in my leg in three seconds that will persist for minutes. I iced it up good, more rigorously than in the past, and the edema was GONE. I don't think I was icing as aggressively as I should have been previously.  A few of my readers like bodily oddities, so I demonstrate edema in this short clip. Note the crease from my sock.

Post Ankle Surgery Edema from D. Jansen on Vimeo.

Exactly 10 weeks after my fracture, I figured it was time to bite the roots of the singletrack that bit me. On Sunday, I drove down to Chelmsford, MA and parked at the Cranberry Bogs. I rode the bogs, the bike path, Lime Quarry, Wright, Powerlines and a good portion of Great Brook singletrack. Very risky. At least it felt that way.  I noted a few things during this ride.
  • Riding baby heads at speed are hard on an ankle 6 days out of a cast.
  • Wheely dropping off bridges doesn't feel good either. But it was fun trying once.
  • When you have 12 degrees of dorsiflexion, you can't walk up a 20 degree incline very well.
  • When other riders that are normally much slower than you come up behind you, you stop thinking with your big head.
  • Being in a cast for 9 weeks from a MTB mishap really messes with your head when you finally get back out on the trails.
It was good be be back in the woods though. Any pain while riding was due only to limited dorsiflexion (where foot bends up towards shin).  Towards the end of the ride, I got a little of my confidence back. I rode 27 miles in 2.5hrs.  Ironically, even though my ankle took a pounding, I had negligible swelling today. I really don't understand this. Maybe I'm just recovering from being let out of the boot on Monday. My lower leg on Sunday is the skinniest its been in 10 weeks, almost normal again. I'm pretty happy about that. A long post, hopefully you made it this far. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Everything is going to be alright

The outcome of my doctor's visit on Monday exceeded my expectations. Basically, I was turned loose to resume normal activities with the understanding of holding back on things that caused excess pain or swelling. No ankle brace, no cane, no nothing. I was actually leery at first. This was unexpected. I forgot to bring a left shoe with me, so I had to drive back home to ditch the cast and don a shoe on my left foot before going in to work.

Walking was a bit iffy. I couldn't roll off the front of my foot, so I had a huge limp. The therapist said I needed more time out of the cast, so I was going to get it hard core now. I found in the boot however, that it was easier to ride than walk. Tuesday was going to be my big debut back into regular cycling with clipless pedals under both feet. It's been over two months.

SteveG agreed to ride with me. Then tri-guy DanM was looking to do a longer, steady paced ride too. I thought terrific, those knuckle heads just averaged 24mph a week or two ago on a 31 mile semi-hilly, trafficy loop we do. I had no idea how I would hold up at that pace, thinking if I was smart, I would drop early and not make my ankle angry.  Little did I know, Steve planned to use the opportunity to further hone his video capturing and editing skills.

It was nasty warm and muggy out, and windy too. We started at a reasonable pace which kept inching higher and higher over the first 10 miles. My cycle computer for some reason or another reverted to metric display, so I kept trying to translate the numbers into the more familiar archaic system we Americans use. It didn't seem like we were going too hard.  What hurt the most were my hamstrings. It seems eight weeks off the bike and almost no stretching during that time left my nearly dysfunctional body in an even bigger wreck. It took a good 30 minutes before I started to loosen up.

We got out on Rt 101 in Amherst with a nice paved shoulder. I took some nice pulls at 50kph. Next thing you know, Dan was accusing me of ramping up the pace during my pulls. Me? Wouldn't think of it. Never. I realized my aerobic fitness was still mostly intact. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

On our way back, I flatted. I put a brand new rear tire and tube on the night before, and a tiny glass shard flatted it. I hadn't flatted on the road in forever, so I supposed I was due. We had a 24+ mph average going before I flatted. Stopping to fix it and some bad luck with stoplights on DWH pulled this down a little at the end of our ride.

What I noticed most in the video was difference in size between left and right calves. I've regained about half the lost mass in the last 2-3 weeks, but I still have a ways to go.  Seated, my ankle is not a limiter whatsoever on the bike. My ankle does not yet support sustained out of the saddle mashing. My legs are pretty weak.  I have no top-end, meaning starts from a stop are very gradual no matter how hard I try. It seems I've lost a lot of strength but not much aerobic capacity. This is exactly what I was after with the SkiErg. Perhaps a genetic predisposition for high aerobic capacity may be helping me here too.

I decided to sign up for the Ascutney hillclimb race on Saturday. I figure it is safer than riding the roads around Nashua. My only purpose in going there is to get a controlled baseline of my fitness. I suspect my training over the next several weeks should focus more on strength building than aerobic capacity. This will have to be metered carefully so I don't delay full recovery of my ankle.

I rode hard again today, solo, in the rain. Riding with clipless pedals really seems to loosen up the ankle, but an hour or two later increases the swelling. It's a double edged sword. I do know since Friday, there has been dramatic improvement in ankle mobility. I don't think I'm being too aggressive here. The folks at CPTE have me doing all kinds of full weight bearing stuff on my left ankle now. Some of it is unpleasant.

So how should I manage the rest of the season? I surely don't want to do any more road races this season. No off-road either. Too risky.  Hillclimb races are safer than riding a bike path, so I do plan to do a few of those. I'm signed up for D2R2 180k, but I think that will be too much too soon. I may show up later and ride the 100k loop just to get something out of my entry fee. There's also the Ironcross race in October. I dearly love that race, a single 100k loop with everything in it. I won't be a podium contender this year, but it would still be fun. The deal is, it involves at least 30-40 minutes of hiking on steep, rugged terrain. It is not a low risk race.  Will my ankle be fully recovered by October? I'm betting I'll be good to go.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Feeling more alive every day

On my partially off-Friday, I did my longest ride in nearly nine weeks. I scooted up to Campton on the fringe of the White Mountains. There are a number of dirt road climbs accessible from there that I've become quite fond of. One is Tripoli Rd (aka Thornton Gap), which from I-93, gains over 1600ft, mostly on gravel. Then there's Campton Mtn, on which a maze of paved and dirt roads meander upwards to gain around 1300ft at heinously steep grades at times. The whole loop runs 35 miles and is mostly be in cell phone range. This is still important, as I'd rather not hobble in my cast for any distance should I have a serious mechanical.

Thornton Gap and Campton Mtn. Top 5mi of Thornton and
much of Campton climbs are gravel.

Having resumed lunch riding this week, I was feeling slightly wrecked from two hour-plus "hammer rides" on Wed/Thur. I quote "hammer ride," as my actual output is still pretty pathetic. But I can at least breath hard for an hour and come back with a mild endorphin buzz.

It hasn't rained appreciably in NH in a long time. Couple this with a week of 90+ weather, you have some pretty dry, loose, dusty roads. Tripoli Rd was the loosest I've seen it. I was very glad to be on a mountain bike with 2.25" knobby tires. A road bike would have been doable, but a miserable experience. It took me nearly 45 minutes to reach Thornton Gap, much longer than I anticipated. It was pretty warm and muggy too. I was soaked upon reaching the top. The good thing was there were no deer flies here. At my house, you can't go out to the mail box without picking up a cloud of 50 of these biting bastards.

I bombed down the other side of Thornton Gap to Waterville Valley. It is paved, sort-of, if you call non-stop frost heaves and patch work paved. I unlocked the suspension for this and was able to carry considerably more speed than on a road bike. A lot more than on skate skies too, as this is the side Waterville Valley grooms in the winter.

Top of Tripoli Rd. I can't run in boot, so I had to leave bike close to
camera, then not ride too fast and ride out of scene. Attempting to
track stand here waiting for shutter to go. My left leg is almost as skinny
as my arm.

Heading down Rt 49 back to Campton was into the wind, as it almost always is. I was felling pretty cooked already, and I wasn't out even two hours yet. I used to be able to come out here on a hardtail or cross bike and ride four hours before feeling cooked. I seriously debated bailing on the Campton climb but took a left on Chickenboro road last minute anyway.

This climb truly sucked. I barely made it with my fat tires. I don't think anybody could clean it with a road bike given the condition it was in. Grades approaching 20%, non-stop washboard bumps, and as loose as gravel gets. At one point, my speed dropped to 2.8mph and I was nearly breaking my thumb pushing for another gear. Then a work truck would come by and I'd gag dust for five minutes.  I didn't bonk, but I definitely reached glycogen depletion on this climb.  There are minor breaks in the steepness as a network of roads are used to reached the highest point, but essentially it was all steep. I emptied my Camelbak by the time I hit the high point. The ride from here back to the car was almost all downhill. I finished with 35 miles in 2.6hrs riding time.

Bob's Lookout.
My favority view from Waterville Valley's XC ski trail system.

Last year, a ride like this would not have been worth writing about. I realize now more than ever that I feel the most alive when I am riding. Even if I never see the podium again in a bike race, just being able to enjoy rides like this is reward enough.  It will be interesting to see how my fitness comes back in the coming months.

I'm hoping Dr. Heaps clears me for clipped in riding when I see him on Monday. I've reached the point where the cast is a pretty big limiter right now. I haven't been able to work on lower leg strength much at all so far and still walk in the cast for the most part. I still have very poor range of motion in my talus. I have about 12 degrees dorsiflexion motion. 20 degrees is considered minimum useful in order to walk normally. What is troubling is this hasn't changed a whole lot in three weeks of physical therapy.  My therapist tells me that is not unusual for still being in the boot. I need to spend more time out of it, but Dr. Heaps didn't want me doing any weight bearing out of the boot yet, other than what I do at PT. With this limited range of motion, I cannot walk without a severe limp or go down stairs at all without double stepping each step. I will need huge improvement in dorsiflexion if I am ever to skate ski again.

The freakiness of my accident is becoming less freaky as I meet more people with similar stories. Saturday morning at the Nashua River Rail Trail trailhead, I met another cyclist who destroyed his lower leg far worse than mine. How? While getting into his car, he slipped on a pizza sized patch of ice he didn't see. I broke tib/fib at the bottom and only fib at the top. He broke both at top and bottom and needed 15" pin down tib that they had to put in through his knee joint. It seems slipping on ice is one of the most common ways people bust their ankles in these parts.

I should finish the week out with over 10 hours of aerobic activity, mostly cycling outside. This is approaching normal volume for me this time of year. I haven't done anything close to VOmax intervals on the bike yet. No point while still in a cast, and I don't think my ankle or the rest of my body is ready for that yet anyway. I need at least another week of base work before turning up the intensity a notch.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pack Attack

Armed with Saturday's success on the rail trail, I wanted to get a snapshot of where I was fitness-wise. I didn't want to drive far or be out of cell phone range. Pack Monadnock is less than an hour's drive, even closer if I start my ride down in Milford. From Milford to Pack Monadnock summit is just over 2000ft elevation gain. There are some great back roads to hit, including Burton Hwy and Old Revolutionary Rd. The later is dirt, one I've never ridden before. Only a mile of busy Rt 101 is needed to connect with Miller State Park, where the toll road to the Pack summit is.

I still needed to use my MTB, as a road bike just doesn't give me the clearance I'd like to see between boot cast and front wheel. I'm sure I was a sight to see starting out from the Milford oval on Sunday. Once on the back roads though, I was by myself. Some of the steeper bits of Burton Hwy easily exceed 12% grade. I struggled in my middle ring with 1:1 gearing and 26" tires (you do the inch-gear calculation). I fretted over the 20% grade at the top of Pack. Having to put a foot down on that was risky. At least I was smart enough to take my heavily rubber lugged Shimano MTB shoes, which stick to granite and pavement much better than my Sidi's do.

There is around 1500ft of climbing to reach the Pack toll booth. It was a nice, albeit a long warm up. I paid my $4 and gave it a go. I kept thinking my physical therapist would never approve of this. I needed the granny ring the whole way up. I managed to maintain 3.5mph on the 20%, well above the fall-over threshold. My time: 14:35. On a good day with a road bike, I could do low 9's on this climb. I have good data on just how much of a hit ride a full-sus MTB up Wachusett Mtn is. It takes me 16.2% longer on a dualie than light hillclimb bike. If I apply this ratio to my Pack climb on Sunday, I get a normalized time of 12:34. Ok, this still really sucks. Compared with a recent time of 9:35, I'm about 31% slower. This means I've lost about this much power.

I see a lot of base miles in my future. I've never been one to periodize my training, opting to maintain a near constant fitness level all year long. I may leave something on the table by not peaking for big events, but I feel this is partly why I never seem to burn out. I never push myself to a level where I must back down for a while. Well, now I've had an eight week forced back down, actually near zero activity for a while.

A fresh start

Despite being quite slow up Pack, I didn't really suffer that much. My cardio system seemed to barely kick in. My legs were clearly the weak link here. There was a group of other cyclists doing repeats, so I figured I might as well go up a second time. I didn't time myself, but I suspect I wasn't much slower. It was getting warm out after that. It was 16 miles back to my car where it would be even hotter. Time to call it a day. Bombing down 101 and Burton at 40mph was rather satisfying.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Whole Again

Now that I can stand on both legs for extended periods of time without pain and swelling, I finished putting my beloved Dean hardtail back together. It looks sweet. The wheels are a bit beat up, but the rest of it was recently rebuilt.

I found it quite challenging to maneuver through my basement shop. I had to double count my bikes. I never realized my collection had grown to 10 bikes. Can you find them all in the photo below? They're all in there. Actually, I have 10.5 bikes if I count my half of the tandem (shown above). I used to think having a bike for each day of the week plus one was a good number. Plus one, in case one of the other bikes craps out. Now I need to figure out which two bikes to unload. I currently have five mountain bikes, four road bikes and one cyclocross bike. There are no redundancies in the MTB lineup. The road bikes, maybe. I keep one as a winter salt beater and another with dedicated hillclimb gearing, but essentially a road bike is a road bike. MTBs come in more flavors though, such as hardtail, full suspension, singlespeed and different wheel sizes. Each will ride better than the others in certain terrain.

My hardtail isn't the only thing feeling more complete these days. I poached a ride this morning. I found my full suspension MTB to have a generous pedal to front wheel clearance, such that there was zero chance I would run my boot cast into the tire when turning. A road bike has half the clearance and is too risky right now. I put a flat pedal on the left side and headed for the paved Nashua River Rail Trail with my wife. Never know when I need to be rescued.

This past week I mentioned to my physical therapist that I hiked up Mt Kearsarge. She stuck a finger in her ear, turned her head and went "la, la, la...." She cracked me up. She didn't want to hear it. She also won't want to hear I road a bike outdoors already. I figure the risk is becoming pretty low, as I don't even take my crutches out of the car anymore. I could walk all day in the boot if I had too, and if I had to put my left foot down suddenly, it won't be a problem in the boot. My bone strength was 80-90% two weeks ago and should be approaching 100% by now. It is the rest of my ankle that needs work.

I thought there was a chance Cathy might be able to stay with me. It was early and trail traffic was still pretty light. But once that breeze started moving over my skin, something kicked in that I haven't felt in eight weeks off the bike. I got into a solid tempo groove and I was gone.

I waited in Ayer for Cathy. She wasn't far back. On the return trip, I felt even better, managing to average about 19mph for the 25 mile round trip. Not bad considering the number of cross roads and other users to slow down for, and riding on big knobbies. It seems I've lost far more in my legs than in cardio. My legs would fatigue way before my breathing became labored. I expected the opposite. My weight is still down. Hopefully soon I can start working on getting left leg muscle strength back. So far my physical therapy has been working on range of motion and no weight bearing.

After the rail trail, Cathy and I rode a bit of road so I could show her approximately where I crashed and broke my ankle, since it is about a mile from the parking lot. Ended up with 30 miles for the morning. Even though it is very awkward riding in a behemoth of a boot cast, the long ride didn't bother my ankle at all. Instead, all the bits that went soft over the last eight weeks got ornery, like my butt, hips and hamstrings. I just may have to try something with a little vertical in it on Sunday.