Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random thoughts on running

I've been running for over three months now. I've never pushed myself - no intervals, no 5k or 1mi baseline tests. I fear damage could result, damage I wouldn't want to impact cycling.  There's not much to show for three month's effort. I've logged only about 12 hours total, or less than an hour per week.

I am noticing subtle changes though. The first time I ran, my hip sockets would immediately hurt. That subsided after the first few weeks. My ankles and feet would hurt too. I'd get shooting pains, like my ankles were rolling even though I was on flat pavement. Not any more. Running is feeling less laborious now. I haven't changed my pace in two months, but the pace I'm running at is feeling easier and easier. I've run five miles several times now around a 7:30 pace. This is slightly above conversation pace for me. The most pronounced thing I am noticing is how much more solid I'm starting to feel on my feet. Whether it is going down stairs or jumping off of something, my lower legs no longer feel like a 15A circuit breaker with a toaster oven, microwave and fridge all plugged in at the same time.

Manchester, Burque, Daniel Webster loop.

I've had to deal with an issue already though. My old, poorly adapting body didn't adapt quickly enough to running in Nike Free shoes. Being minimally padded, they force a forefoot landing, which puts a big impulse through your calf muscle. As my pace picked up to sub-8 minutes and distance went over three miles, my right calf would get all knotted up on me. It would take a day or two to go away. I picked up a pair of Soucony traditional style running shoes, and the problem mostly went away. I still get some tenderness on five mile runs. Perhaps I need to run more than once or twice a week to toughen up my calves.

I've picked up a few lessons learned and have made a few observations along the way:
  • Don't let your toe nails grow out too long. They will cut into adjacent toes and make them bleed.
  • Don't trim your toe nails too short. They will become ingrown and cause great pain.
  • Layering for cold weather running is not the same as layering for cold weather riding. About 1/3 as much will do.
  • Recovery days used to be 45 minutes L1 on the bike. Now I run 30+ minutes on my "rest" days. I don't get rest days anymore.
  • A moderate 30 minute run spikes metabolism more than a hard 1 hour ride. I tend to be hungrier in afternoons after running five miles than riding 25 miles.
  • Running is just as effective in achieving a Zen state of mind as cycling is.
  • When running against traffic, drivers rarely look right when pulling out right.
  • Never trust a fart when you are running.
I would like to benchmark myself soon. The trick is, when? I only run when I'm beat from riding or skiing, on days that would typically be a rest or active recovery day. Running in this state would hardly be a fair benchmark test. On the flip side, I don't want to waste valuable training time by actually recovering for a run, as my cycling fitness is subpar right now due to lack of saddle hours this winter. Perhaps I shouldn't sweat it. I'm running to regain bone density, and I feel reasonably confident I'm on a solid path.

Joe Friel recently posted a series on bone density in cyclists, with a summary of recent studies. The consensus is plyometrics is best for building bone density, sprint effort running next best, followed by distance running. I just don't see myself getting into plyo. Not unless some part of my body bulks at running. I'd much rather be outside. Who knows, if I keep this up for a year, maybe there's a duathlon or winter triathlon in my future.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

From 90's to 20's

A week ago I enjoyed temperatures reaching into the 90's in Tucson. I came back to New Hampshire with fresh snow on the ground. It was supposed to be spring. I wasn't supposed to be sick either. I went nearly three weeks with minimal intensity work on the bicycle. I started coming down with a chest infection before heading out to Arizona, was sick the whole time there and spent most of this week getting over it.

Saturday was the first opportunity to get a decent ride in. I left from my house and scooped up SteveG and DaveP along the way.  It was a harsh reality with 25mph winds and temps in the low 20's. We did a classic loop that went up Parker's, Uncle Sam's and through Temple. There are at least three sustained climbs along the way. Dave hurt me pretty good on the first one. My legs and lungs didn't quite know how to respond. By the third climb, I had less difficulty holding a near VOmax pace.

Steve had to put up with battling hill junkies. When we reached the small country store in Temple, I think his purchase was in direct proportion to how much trouble he thought he was in. Bombing down from the high point in Temple along the Wapack Range brought on an immediate icecream headache. It couldn't have been much over 20F up there.

We took the Burton Hwy down to Wilton, a skinny paved road that parallels Rt 101. There was still much snow cover in the area, but due to frigid temps, there was no melting. The roads were bare and dry. Until one steep part most of the way down. I was leading at nearly 40mph when I realized there was about a 50ft patch of ice across full width of road. I let out a girlie scream, as I was sure a crash was imminent. Fortunately, it looked like the town put salt down and it was not boiler plate ice. We all managed to stay upright.

Steve didn't want anything to do with Pead Hill, despite my incessant whining to do it. Probably a good thing. Much later, nearing Steve's house with another 7 miles still to go to my house, I started cramping up. It is all up hill too. The last five miles of the ride were the hardest thing I've done on a bike in months. Quads, hammies, inner thighs were all spasming. I doubt I had more than 30 minutes of hard effort in this ride. How does that bode for Battenkill in two weeks?

Since I got a punishing ride in Saturday, Sunday had to be a ski day. Reports coming from Waterville Valley were too good to pass up. Skogs, my wife Cathy and I went up.  There's wasn't much snow turning off I-93, but there sure was good snow at WV. They were nearly fully open with perfect mid-winter conditions. Just like Saturday, it was cold and windy. Hard to believe it was almost April. It looked and felt like January.

We went out Swan's Way to Upper Snows. The higher elevation snow was quite slow compared to the crispy corduroy at lower elevations. Coming down, I had to do Cascade Brook while Skogs did the less vertically challenging Lower Snows down and back up. Having skied only twice this month, my left ankle was quickly going into a fit of rage. I couldn't find a way to glide without shooting pains from the two medial side screws.

We crossed over to the Tripoli side and climbed it next. The snow got squeakier and slower as we gained vertical. I nearly aborted, as my ankle hurt so bad. I guess without regular skiing, tissues softened up in there and couldn't deal with the skate boot. A single loop around Moose Run/Wicked Easy was all I could handle before heading back to the Nordic Center. I sure hope having those pins removed solves this problem for next season.

Skogs skied a bit longer, wanting to get 40+km in. I managed 37km in 2.5hrs with 2800ft of climbing. I don't think I've ever seen a bluer sky there. Wish I brought the camera.  Not a bad ski day, but had my ankle not been an issue, I could have done much more. Cathy classic skied the easier trails on the south end and was terrified by the crispy granular speed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Black Canyon Trail

Saturday was our last day to ride in Arizona. Every time I revisit a riding destination, I'm always sure to check out something new. This is easy to do in states like Arizona or Colorado. Riding opportunities are vast, and passionate MTB communities in those states ensure continued access and lobby for new trails. One new piece of work in Arizona is the Black Canyon Trail. Local riders have been saying great things about it. I thought it would be a great way to cap off a week of riding.

The BCT isn't exactly a Sedona ride. In fact, it is closer to Phoenix than Sedona. We still started at a reasonable hour. I deeply questioned yet again the wisdom of riding with my chest condition. Each morning began with fits of lung clearing. There were times I conjured up a mass with nowhere to deposit it. Imagine swallowing an egg yolk.

From my limited research on the BCT, I figured our planned 42 mile route would take only about four hours. I fueled accordingly. The trail seemed non-technical for the most part and the biggest climb was about 800ft. The temp was an ideal 68F with some hazy sun.

Agua Fria river below, trail bench cut into canyon wall in distance.

Heading out, we were amazed by the flowy nature of the trail. Long 6% grade climbs were followed by long 6% descents. Most of the trail was meticulously benchcut into canyon sidewalls. It no doubt took many, many hours of labor to build this trail. Just because the trail had flow didn't mean you could carry big ring speed. The trail contoured into many nooks and crannies and dropped into and out of many washes. Grade and direction reversals were constant. Super fun, but after a couple hours of riding and nowhere near the half-way point, I began to doubt my fast twitch legs would carry me through the whole planned route with the food and water I brought.

We wrapped around the western part of the Little Pan Loop and crested the high point before the Boy Scout Loop. The Boy Scout Loop was to be the far point of this mostly out and back ride, but I knew if we bombed down towards it, considerable additional climbing would be required.  Of course, Alex was not concerned. Onward we pressed. At the far point of the ride, three hours were nearly logged. So much for a four hour ride.

Heading south on BCT. These Saguaros were massive.
Photo by Alex

Coming back meant two more Agua Fria river crossings, which meant a huge climb after the first crossing. With my food gone and six ounces of fluid left in my Camelbak, the last 2hrs of this ride pushed me deeply into death march territory. I saw three snakes on the way back, none of them rattlers, but this weirded Alex out no less. There was nobody else left on the trail late in the day.

Alex on ledge

The climb back up to the Skyline Segment nearly killed me. The descent was worth it. Even though my body was weak, my mind was still sharp enough to shred the next several miles of nearly all coasting, sliver of benchcut singletrack.

Alex continued his feud with thorns. See how long these are?
I pulled one out in the evening embedded as deep.

We got back to the car with 43.4mi in 5.6hrs moving time logged. Alex consumed about half a bottle of Perpetuum and barely touched the water in his Camelbak. What I wouldn't give for some of that fat burning, slow twitch muscle fiber. We were gluttonous fools at the Sonic on the way back to Flagstaff. A large chocolate malt, chicken sandwich and Supersonic cheeseburger (think double Whopper with cheese) never disappeared so fast.

BCT flow. Photo by Alex.

For the trip, we rode 260 miles, mostly off-road, climbed 28,500ft, with a moving time of 27.5hrs. I've done more off-road miles or more climbing before in a week, but never more riding hours. Many of the rides this trip were quite technical. I'd definitely repeat Black Canyon again, and probably Highline in Sedona too. I managed to lose a couple pounds despite eating as much as I could. My legs have a little more definition to them now, so hopefully I gained some training value from this trip even though I was sick the whole time.

Boy Scout Loop on left, Little Pan Loop in middle, Skyline on right.

I managed to see the doctor today. My welcome back to New Hampshire is antibiotics, a snowy landscape, and a work email inbox that I'll never recover from. We didn't quite lose all the snow in our yard before a refresh moved in today. Just maybe there was a reason I didn't put storage wax on the skies yet.

Spring in New Hampshire.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Double-H Loop

After a restless night of attempted sleep at 7000ft in Flagstaff, Alex and I headed off to Sedona for a wicked late start. We parked in Oak Creek to begin a loop called Double-H, for Highline and Hog. I hadn’t ridden either of these trails before. They only recently became “public,” apparently being local insider trails before that. Videos suggested some moderate exposure on Highline, and I hadn’t done any research Hog.

Climbing Highline

It didn’t take long on Highline before we realized this ain’t New England! Lots of climbing started things off until we contoured high up along red rock formations. A local rider in body armor and a much burlier bike than ours flew past us. As I rode out on a lip skinnier than my handlebar, Alex blurted out “Dude, don’t ride that!” It’s ok if you don’t look down.

View from Highline

We popped out on a point with gorgeous views in most directions. The burly dude was still there. We waited for him to descend first, but he told us to go ahead, as he wanted to meditate up there for a while. Yeah, Sedona is like that.

Portion of descent

When we got to the final set of switchbacks down, we paused in disbelief, like how do we get down that without sliding on our asses? Just then burly dude comes by, possibly never hitting the brakes. After some serious hike-a-bike down, we got to the creek. Then it was right back up the Templeton Trail to ride across the base of Cathedral Rock.

Easy carving on Templeton

We crossed under the highway and worked our way up to Chicken Point. The fork off to High on the Hog trail was hard to find and we never would have found it without a GPS track. This definitely was not a mainstream trail. Hog entailed some pretty extreme exposure. Riding this trail caused so much stress that my sphincter was cramping up.

I didn't hesitate here on Hog

Eventually we get to the switchbacks off the ledge, which were well designed (aka rideable). We took Broken Arrow back up to Chicken Point, skipping Submarine Rock since daylight was becoming a premium. Llama Trail back to the car finished the ride.

Sketchiness on Hog

We finished with about 24mi in 4hrs on the Garmin. The Double-H loop was easily the most challenging four hour ride I’ve done anywhere with huge stakes if you messed up much of the time. Ironically, I have not been wearing an ankle brace at all during this trip and risk of ankle injury hasn’t even been on my mind. Fear of death supersedes any worries of rolling ankles.

Semi-Recovery Thursday

Having logged about as many hours of riding in three days as I have in a month this winter, I needed a break. The planned 50 mile TMP ride wasn't going to happen. Alex hinted another 5+ hour day would have broken him too. So we hit a couple cool spots with minimal elevation change, riding only an hour or so at each. These were the Sweetwater Trails and the 50 Year Trail. We rode almost all of Sweetwater and hit the best of 50 Year, including the Chutes and Upper 50.  The virus I'm plagued with claimed my voice during the ride, leaving me squeaking like I was huffing helium. Alex was amused.  The dry air and temp in the 90's didn't help.  Here's a few photos from the day.

Doug @ Sweetwater

Alex @ Sweetwater

50 Year Trail with the Santa Catalina's in the background

Alex on 50 Year

Heading to Sedona. The Double-H ride on Friday was the most
techy thing I've done on two wheels.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mt Lemmon

My chest was wrecked when I awoke Wednesday. I wasn’t even going to ride. Alex was intent on doing at least one really big climb on the trip, and he wanted to do a classic one. That of course would be Mt Lemmon. It is paved all the way to the summit, so one would have to be a bit whacked to climb it with a full suspension MTB.

Mt Lemmon was perhaps the only ride Alex could do without route guidance. I capitulated and decided I would at least start out with him and maybe ride just to Summerhaven. Alex was intent on hitting the summit above 9100ft, the highest he would have ever ridden.

We parked at Sabino Cycles in town on Tanque Verde. The five mile ride out to the base of the climb was easy enough on my virus plagued body. Then Alex cut loose and rode away from my like I wasn’t moving. I think his words were he wanted to “crush this climb.”

A constant stream of roadies were coming down, having already finished their climb. Most won’t even acknowledge fat tire riders. Do they even realize my Camelbak weighs more than their bike? My bike weighs twice their bike. That makes for serious, albeit slow work.

After an hour-plus, I caught up with Alex. He was having hip issues and stopped to stretch. I was having knee issues. Perhaps the brutal hike-a-bike on day one did some damage. We stayed together after that, a couple of cripples heading up the mountain. At least my chest was a little clearer.

Upon reaching the turn-off to Ski Valley, I decided to make a summit run with Alex. The steepest part of the climb is from Summerhaven to the summit, another 1300ft of climbing. I figured I could just turn around and coast back down to a cookie if I ran into trouble. I was never one to err on the side of caution when trying to recover from illness.

The temperature dropped precipitously as we climbed above the ski area. Lots of snow up there too. A hiker took a shot of us at the observatory, then it was cookie time. The Summerhaven cookie shop has to be world famous. We each got cookies the size of paper plates fresh out of the oven and 7” pizzas. Perfect fuel for the 32 mile descent.

We thought about hitting the Bugs/Molino trails on the way down, but our late start and waning daylight suggested we should call it good. This was the first time I descended Mt Lemmon without needing long layers. One year it thunder snowed while Dave and I descended. We got back to the car with 72.4mi, 7900ft and 5:21hrs on the Garmin. I definitely was not getting over my cold. Neither was my wife Cathy, who was getting lots more rest than I and came down with this nasty bug at the same time. How do you not ride when purpose of the trip was to ride? This is the first time I got sick at the beginning of a trip.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Two for Tuesday

Monday’s ride turned into a boondoggle. I feel bad for Alex, having dragged him into an unproven ride. I have a knack for drawing victims into boondoggles. Since the ride took so long, we never got to Fantasy Island on Monday as planned. So on Tuesday, we opted to do a shortened version of the Arizona Trail (AZT) and hit Fantasy Island afterwards.

We parked on Rt 83 just off I-10, as DaveP and I did last year, beginning our AZT ride with a 13 mile gradual paved climb towards Box Canyon. The ride out took 58 minutes, two minutes longer than last year with Dave, which is surprising since I was feeling thoroughly sick. My chest cold was worsening.

Mt Wrightson

The views are sweet from this section of the AZT. We first rode out to the high point with a 360 degree panoramic view of mountains all the way around. Then it was gradually working down 2000ft of vertical on singletrack. It wasn’t all down though. There are numerous washes to switchback down into and back out of.

Alex climbing

A tough switchback neither of us cleaned.

We had the trail nearly to ourselves. We encountered only a pair of equestrians during the ride. Other than that, it was bluebird skies and warm breeze the whole time. There were some new reroutes since Dave and I rode this section of the AZT last year, taking out a sketchy section near a popular shooting area and a hike-a-bike wash.

The finish to this ride is sweet, as it is mostly downhill for the last six miles on flowy, buff trail. It encourages insane speed. We finished the ride with 37 miles, 3900 feet of climbing, in 3.9 hours. A great ride, but it left my bronchial passages in wheezing chaos.

Why does Alex think this is so funny?

After refueling on Starbucks and Subway, Alex and I hit Fantasy Island, which is not far from the section of AZT we rode. I didn’t anticipate riding all of it with how my chest was feeling.

There were only a handful of cars in the lot upon arrival around 4pm. Last year, Dave and rode only a portion of the trails, as we killed a better part of the afternoon in a futile attempt to reclaim my camera atop Mt Hopkins. We hit a select subset of the trails while venting anger in losing my camera. I took insane risks and Dave was hanging on thinking WTF. That wasn’t happening this year. I had no mojo to fuel anything but a pedestrian pace late in the second day of the trip.

Alex led out. I noticed many times he got his inside foot ready to outrigger incase of an understeer. Fantasy Island is designed for speed, and speedy riders have nicely bermed all the turns. Risk of sliding out is actually pretty low if you follow a line that offers the most perpendicular surface to your center of gravity. Alex tended to cut too much to the inside edges of the turns, riding on the off-camber portion of the trail tread. I suggested he trust the rut. He asked me to demonstrate for a while, and I prayed I didn’t slide into a cholla.

Alex with his friendly cacti

We headed out on the Bunny Loop, which I didn’t know went all the way out to Valencia. Lots of “mindless” buff singletrack. But this was the only way to pick up some of the newer trails in the system.

A few times, I lost Alex. Seems he was feuding with cholla cactus. Apparently his front tire picked up a ball and flung it into his shin. You don’t actually have to hit a plant to have these nasties jump up on you. I managed to escape thornless.

Later in the ride we hit some of the great terrain in the Over-Under and Halfpipe areas. Many giant gravity cavities induced huge grins, even though I was feeling pretty shitty from my cold. I cringed many times as my suspension bottomed out in these drops and rocks pinched my tires hard.

We managed to ride all of Fantasy Island (I think) before the sun got too low in the sky. It was a satisfying day of riding with over 57 miles and 5.5 hours in the saddle, mostly on singletrack. Fantasy Island is on my must-hit list every time I come to Tucson. There’s really nothing anywhere where else like it. Over 10 hours of riding in two days is not the best way to recover from a chest cold. Riding prospects for Wednesday were looking grim.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bigger the Better

Having climbed Mt Hopkins as an out-and-back three times now, I sought something a little different for this trip. Perusing satellite imagery in Google maps, I found a track that diverged from the Mt Hopkins Rd and swooped to the south before rejoining the road closer to the top. This looked very interesting. Part of the route was Forest Service route 143. The upper portion of this mystery track was labeled as “impassible by vehicle” on a map I have. It was shown as a MTB route, so I assumed it was a viable alternative to the gravel auto road all the way to the summit. The max grade did concern me a tad. Sections hit 30% with an average around 20% for a couple miles. Firm surface - no problem. Loose ATV chunk - hike-a-bike.

It was a pristine day for our first ride of the trip. We turned off onto FS-143. It was slightly bony doubletrack, but great climbing. There were some big vertical losses along the way. Each one, a little voice in the back of your mind would chime in and say “you gotta re-climb that vertical again!”

Alex on FS143

The grade got progressively steeper as the miles accrued. I mentioned to Alex that we hadn’t gotten to “The Wall” yet. Feeling fresh and cocky at the beginning of a trip, he replied “The bigger the Better!” I though oh no, he just doomed our ride. I had no idea on the rideability of the steep section.

Beginning of suckfest. Alex didn't make it far.

We first blew by the turn-off from the doubletrack for the ATV trail that cuts across and up to the auto road. It was a barely there trail. Not a good sign. Hike-a-biking ensured almost immediately. A few morsels of rideable trail strung us out on a false hope that we might be riding more than walking. It wasn’t to be.

Hill Junkie near top of suckfest.

The surface was loose baby heads. We stumbled our way up like drunken sailors. Sometimes you’d take one step up and roll three back on loose rocks. The wheels would not turn on this crap either. We nearly had to carry our heavy full suspension MTBs. They have no open main triangles, else we would have shouldered our bikes. At one point, the grade max’d out at 60%. It was barely hikeable. My ankles got bloodied up on both sides from rolling off or in between loose rocks. I did not wear my ankle brace. I feel much more solid on my feet now after running for many weeks.

Alex was so glad to see the road he kissed it.

The vertical accumulated painfully slowly. I knew approximately what elevation we had to pop out at, and I was hesitant to tell Alex how much further we had to go. Eventually we gained the ridgeline and were able to ride our bikes again. We hiked up 1600ft of vertical on loose baby head rocks. It took over 45 minutes. That was the mother of all hike-a-bikes for me. I was surprised Alex was even willing to ride with me again the next day after dragging him though that torture fest.

Switchback near summit.

The remaining 1500ft to the summit of Mt Hopkins was a breeze. That last stretch is paved, presumably to keep dust low around the telescopes. It was the warmest ever up top, and it was the first time I didn’t have to put long layers on for the descent. Normally the dirt auto road takes about 2.4hrs to climb. This round about way took 3.7hrs. I had blisters on my feet from walking so long in carbon fiber soled shoes, and Alex’s hip went FUBAR on him. Only five more days to go!

Descent from summit.

Interestingly, Alex ate nothing except half a bottle of Perpetuum during this 4.75hr ride. He is a slow-twitch/fat burning freak of nature. I could have eaten my Camelbak by the end of this ride. We rode 44.6mi with 6620ft vert.  We hit up El Charro for dinner late on Monday night and had to wait to get in. The Carne Seca was out of this world.

Update: Strava link to ride. Forgot to mention, behind on posting due to COX internet outage for two+ days.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Season Finale

Before heading off to the hot, sunny desert southwest, I squeezed in one last ski for the season. Skogs and I headed up to Waterville with suspect conditions. Two others bailed, fearing rain and poor conditions. The big board in the Nordic Center showed us pretty much all of the north end was groomed, but Swans and a few other south end trails were closed. Sounded good to me. We drove over to north end lot to begin our ski.

My goal was to ski conservatively, so as to not put myself into even a shallow hole before heading to Tucson. I really should have rested instead. My wife and I both come down with a touch of a cold last night, exactly the same symptoms. Really bad timing, but so far it seems a mild case.

Heading up Livermore Road, we found excellent spring conditions. Corn snow, but not too soft and not too wet. I V2'd most of the way up with little exertion. At the top of Upper Snows, Skogs led the charge down. He dusted me on the initial chicanes and it took me a while to catch him on the flatter parts. We took Lower Snows down to the wall near Swazeytown. Skogs had no interested in climbing Beanbender, but with fast granular, I didn't think it would take too much out of me. He would ski back up Upper Snows until I scooped him up on my way down from Beanbender. Corn snow glide does let you find a granny gear even on 30% grades. That was the easiest climb up Beanbender for me this season.

We bombed down Livermore together then crossed over to do Tripoli. This too climbed well, especially as vertical was gained. It was probably just below freezing up top, so it was crusty and scary fast. Skogs totally embarrassed me on the descent. I suspect he was 25% faster and was out of sight in no time. He may have hit a personal speed record on skinny skis. I death-wedged the steeper spots in futile attempts to keep speed in check. I was on my rock skis with no edges. Skogs was on brand new skis. Had I known conditions would be so good, I would have brought my new skis. The snow was clean and there were no thin spots.

Can you tell which one is Beanbender?

We wrapped up the session with two laps around Moose Run/Wicked Easy. Nice fast V2 cruising material there. I finished with 34km, 2630ft in 2.1hrs on the Garmin. That's a wrap for the 2010/2011 ski season for me.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Finally time to put a tough week behind me and think about the week coming up. When was the last time you've seen a forecast like this?

Tucson, AZ next week

This will be quite a shock to the body. Alex and I plan to spend four riding days in Tucson and two riding days in the Sedona area. Reports and webcams say 100% of the snow is gone in southern Arizona, even at 10,000ft. This opens up a couple opportunities. I'd like to stay off road, but a 10,000 footer near Safford is tempting, even if the first 6000ft of climbing is paved.

I've climbed Mt Hopkins three times already, a mostly dirt auto road up to an observatory at 8500ft. I have a variant in mind for this trip, where we'll climb a jeep road most of the way up. Parts of this will hit greater than 20% grade. Ought to offer some new scenery and hopefully no motorized traffic.

Mt Hopkins with Tucson and the Santa Catalina's in the background

In Sedona, I plan to cover some trails I hadn't hit before, some that might be relatively new. There is ride called the Double H ride, for Highline and High on the Hog trails. There is also a Triple H ride that hits Hangover, but some crazy sick exposure on it is not my gig.

Sedona Double-H loop

Looks like one last chance to ski on Saturday, then hopefully I'll report on a hot ride we did on Monday.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rangeley Loppet

Not much to say about this one, other than I finished it and I didn't break anything. Those were my only goals, really. I skied seven times in February and only slightly more than that in January.  I dared not expect more.

I brought my new skis that still aren't broken in, against better judgement. I didn't fuss too much over waxing. I put on Toko HF Red and followed that with Star F1 fluoro for 0 to -6C. The course was in mint condition, nicely packed powder, but a little slower than last year. I did less than 1km warmup.

I lined up third row, but another skier moved in at the front and pushed my lane back. BrettR was in the second row of the adjacent lane and DaveP was behind him. Many lanes quickly funnel down into a narrow trail. I was probably 50 skiers back as we entered the trail. The first little riser we came to nearly brought everybody to a stop.

My skis felt the fastest since I bought them, which isn't saying much. With a cycling trip coming up in a week, I wasn't going to take any risks in this race. I did well at Rangeley last year and had no chance of topping that this year with ankle and ski woes I've suffered through this season. So I might as well enjoy the ride.

When we got to the first long, gradual climb, I stepped out of the conga line and passed 10 skiers. I began bridging the gap to Brett. Only Victor was between Brett and I as we crested. Didn't last long. The course descends through a bunch of chicanes. Every one of the 10 skiers I easily passed on the climb passed me back. I suck donkey balls around corners at speed.

It seems every sport has its prima donnas. Early in the race, a female skier didn't like how somebody else was skiing and let them know. A little while later, she was screaming at me. I'd get passed, only to be slowed down by her on the next rise. After I got yelled at for the third time, I told her if she didn't like how I was skiing, then she shouldn't slow down so much on the climbs. The next climb I dropped her for good. Not everybody has rockstar ski technique, so keep your commentary to yourself and deal with it.

I had nobody to draft up the 2km climb into the wind. It was brutal. Like last year, the only edible food on the course was dry cookies. And like last year, I tried to eat two cookies after summiting that hill. I think I blew one third out of my mouth, another third I inhaled into my lungs, and the final third actually made it to my stomach. Most skiers remembered this from last year and took gels with them. I'm not that smart though. I did take a bottle of strong Gatorade with me. That got me through the first lap.

Lapping at the start/finish, I hollered over from my time. It was 11:15am, which meant the first lap took me 1:30. My first lap last year was around 1:20, but the laps were about 1km shorter last year. So there was no way I would come in under 3hrs. I didn't really care. I still felt great, as I wasn't killing myself.

Photo credit: Jamie Doucett

I skied by myself most of the time on lap two. A few times, different college girls caught and passed me. I didn't think I was slowing down. I found the college girls all had two things in common: their skis were slightly faster than mine, and they could RAIL the corners. Even though I bet I had 40 pounds on some of the girls, I could not stay with them in a tuck on the fast, gradual descents. Close, but maybe 3% slower. Where I really lost time was the turns. I absolutely have not figured out how to ride berms. I have this maybe-not-so-irrational fear that I will wreck and break something on my body. Brett has a similar mental block carrying speed around turns. We discussed getting professional help with this next year, as in one-on-one instruction on downhills.

The sun tried coming out towards the middle of the race and the snow got a tad sticky. But half way through the second lap, clouds moved in and the temp dropped a few degrees. My skis got even faster than at the start of the race. I felt great on the last few climbs and pushed pretty hard. I fully expected Dave to pass me by this point. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, as he has a knack of sneaking up on me three hours into endurance events and yelling out a "Yeah, Baby!" as he flies by. I wondered if I lost track of him at the start and if he was in fact already ahead of me. I kept pushing just in case he was still back.

I finished in 3:01, just missing the three hour mark. This is interesting, because my second lap was only one minute slower than my first lap. I've never come anywhere close to even time splits in a 50k race before. Dave came in two minutes behind me. Brett finished six minutes ahead of me. I expected Dave to beat both of us based on perimeter loops at Waterville Valley over the last few weeks. Dave didn't use a fluoro wax though, so I think he had a ski handicap. Not only did most use fluoro, many rilled their skis too.

It started to rain as soon was we left for home. We decided to take a more "scenic" route home along Rt 16. I've never been through Errol or Berlin before. Rt 16 is a real piece of work in winter. Giant frost heaves either sent my Matrix airborne or bottomed it out in gravity cavities.

When I pulled my sock off at home, blood began to run down my ankle. It seems the ski boot pinched against one of my screws again and cut the skin. The dry sock I put on after the race fused to the scab that formed, and that ripped off with the sock. I contemplated having Cathy fish around in there to take that aggravating screw out.

I plan to get both screws removed before the next ski season gets underway. No way am I going to put up with this for another year. Unless conditions are good at Waterville next Saturday, this might be a wrap for my ski season. I don't plan to ski after I get back from Arizona.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

This season won't end soon enough

Work has been stressful. I'm faced with seemingly impossible challenges. Somebody can walk in my office, talk 10 minutes, and just like that I have 10 new emails all wanting something from me. Today I had a 90 minute window between meetings to get in my one and only weekday ride that I get these days. It was sunny and mild out. No booties or beanie needed.

The wind was tough heading north. 15 minutes into the ride, the skies turned dark. The wind started gusting to 40+ mph. The temperature dropped 10 degrees. It was just like a summer thunderstorm moving in, except there was no thunder. It snowed mightily. The massive wet flakes packed up on my light layers and cheeks. I suffered perpetual ice cream headache. Then my shoes filled with water and I couldn't feel anything from my ankles down. It wasn't enough that storm drains were plugged, forcing me to ride in deep water with submerged potholes. I had to ride in a heavy snow squall with inadequate protection. As I finished my 66 minute ride, the sun came out again. How unlucky can you get?

That was one of those rides where you take two showers afterwards. First you take a shower with all your clothes on to blast away the layers of mud (I don't ride full fenders), then you take a regular shower after that. I don't recommend doing this at home.

This ride pretty much sums up how my whole winter season has gone for me. First I struggle with ankle issues, buying over-sized skate boots to placate my titanium enhanced left ankle. I didn't need new boots, I just bought new boots last season. I mostly figured out how to ski without too much ankle trouble, only to crash in my first major ski race and break a ski. So then I buy new race skis, when I didn't need new skis, only to find them really slow. Maybe they'll speed up in a few more waxings, but I'm pessimistic at this point.

I have one more race for the season, Rangeley on Saturday. We'll see if I can even complete one race this season. It could rain on Saturday. At this point, I view Rangeley as something to just get behind me and start focusing on riding. Since the holidays, I've averaged less than two ski sessions per week. That is hardly a marathon training schedule.

To be sure, I've had some great ski workouts this year. I've logged a couple 50k sessions, one in less than three hours. I've done several perimeter skis at Waterville Valley. Rarely is there enough snow that affords such opportunities. I count that as a blessing.  I've had a few good workouts at Weston too. Tuesday Night Sprints are always good for an adrenaline booster on an endorphin buzz. It is really hard to say where my cycling fitness is right now. I've only been riding twice a week, and only after hard ski workouts. Aerobically, I think I'm in fine shape. The legs, not so sure.

Running hasn't sucked that much. Not as much as I thought it would. In fact, I'm running long enough now that it can provide a fine endorphin fix. The gym bag is a lot lighter on days I run. I keep inching the pace and distance up, now running five miles at sub 7.5min pace. Running hasn't been without minor issues, which will have to wait for another post.

In another week, I bail out of here with Alex Combes to Tucson for a week of "training" in the desert. The mountain bikes are on their way. I hear they are getting 80's this week. Hope to see some of that. At least the recent snow on Mt Lemmon should be gone by the time Alex and I get there. Like any trip I go on, the planned rides are longer and the climbs higher than the body will likely handle. It's good to ride in places that have no shortage of terrain.